Directed by Antoine Fuqua
Starring Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett
Memo to the Pentagon, the National Security Council and the Secret Service:
Next time you're in a jam, don't bother sending in all those troops that specialize in weapons use, military tactics and martial arts; it doesn't matter whether they are SEALS, Green Berets, whatever: they are all going to be wiped out like rats anyway.
Instead, send in the one guy who can clean up the situation singlehandedly. You know which one he is: just check with HR: he's the guy who used to be in the Special Forces (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines -- which one isn't important because they are all just so darned special), who was disgraced in his last assignment through no fault of his own and who is so insubordinate to everybody in a position of authority that it is amazing he can even hold a job.
That's the man you want. If you marshal your resources and send him in to begin with, you will save a lot of lives and narrative time. Because everybody else in your elite force is just window-dressing -- a collection of breathing warm bodies whose only real reason for existence is to serve as hapless victims who are summarily eliminated by the bad guys.
|Gerard Butler as agent Michael Banning, the most insubordinate employee ever hired by the U.S. Treasury Department.|
These are really bad people -- we know because they are North Koreans, the guys who keep threatening to use nukes on the United States. North Koreans are made to order as geopolitical villains; after all, the country's military leaders and lunatic dictators starve their own people while their Dear Leader globe-trots with international has-beens like Carmen Electra's ex-hubbie. They send suicide missions across the DMZ even though none of those missions have accomplished anything of substance. They have exchanged nuclear technology and information with the terrorist-infiltrated military that runs Pakistan.
So what's to like?
Of course, North Korea is a somewhat unlikely candidate to mount a successful strike on U.S. soil, let alone take over the White House. It is, after all, an isolated dictatorship whose primary infantry weapon is a Russian-designed assault rifle introduced 66 years ago; it seems to get caught every time it clumsily sends a hit squad across the border into South Korea; its guided missiles -- the ones it threatens to use in a first strike against the U.S. -- barely fly, and rarely hit what they are supposed to.
In fact, the country's primary contribution to modern military materiel seems to be those ridiculously huge hats its officers wear: their crowns are as big as the OB beer umbrellas shading tables in a Seoul sidewalk cafe; what holds them up, only Kim Jong-un knows.
Anyway, in Olympus, the North Koreans, led by a reptilian psychopath named Kang (Rick Yune) manage to infiltrate and replace an entire South Korean diplomatic delegation that is meeting with the President (Aaron Eckhart) to discuss the latest Korean crisis. And they manage this even though the South Koreans are probably the most paranoid people on the planet and have an espionage agency, the National Intelligence Service, that boasts 60,000 employees in 37 different departments and spends the equivalent of nearly a billion dollars a year spying, primarily on North Korea.
|The oleaginous Rick Yune as Kang, master plotter extraordinaire, a 21st Century stand-in for Dr. Fu Manchu. He sought to change the world, but forgot to get Mike Banning out of the way, first. . .|
Special Agent Mike Banning, who used to head the White House security detail but was removed from the post after he failed to save the President's wife (Ashley Judd) from death in a freak auto accident, happens to be watching from his new desk job at Treasury when the terrorists appear.
He hustles down to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, not only avoiding being shot to death by the terrorists but also by an army of cops, Secret Service agents and -- well -- the Army, as he races down the street waving his semiautomatic pistol and dispatching bad guys. Through some marvelous quirk of fate, he ends up inside the presidential dwelling, the last living man with a gun who isn't a terrorist.
The remaining run-time of the film is spent with Banning rescuing the president's plucky son, Connor (Finley Jacobsen), picking off the terrorists one at a time and messing with the heads of Kang and his troops.
He also serves as the eyes and ears of the hastily-appointed acting president, Speaker of the House Trumbell (Morgan Freeman, who probably spent a lot of this movie wishing he was still playing Easy Reader on The Electric Company, a Children's Television Workshop series for PBS in the 1970s. At least the dialogue on The Electric Company was aimed at slightly more mature viewers.)
The writers have attempted to make Banning a classic tough guy by putting Phillip Marlowe dialogue in his mouth, but the smart cracks wear thin quickly and Butler, frankly, just isn't the guy to deliver them. A good example of what he has to work with:
|Says Banning to Kang at one point, "Let's play a game of 'Go Fuck Yourself,' you go first." Ah, the incredible wit of the Hollywood action film script writer.|
Banning's job of overcoming the evil-doers is made immensely easier by the gaping holes in the plot. For example, about mid-way through the movie a renegade ex-Secret Service man who is working with the bad guys (Dylan McDermott), is sent out by Kang to kill Banning.