ButlerEckhartOlympusIf you’re looking for a high-quality action throwback thriller this spring, then look no further than Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen. While campy and silly at times, Olympus is a thoroughly entertaining film that will keep you at the edge of your seat. One of two White House hostage films slated for release in 2013 (the other being this summer’s White House Down), Olympus Has Fallen offers a formula not too dissimilar from Air Force One, and it falls squarely into the guilty pleasure category.

Olympus stars Gerard Butler as secret service agent Mike Banning, a ridiculously likable man with an in-depth knowledge of the White House and its architectural layout. While leading President Benjamin Asher’s (Aaron Eckhart) security detail on a motorcade outside of Camp David, tragedy strikes as the First Lady (Ashley Judd) is killed in a car accident caused by an icy bridge road. As a result of the incident, Banning is reassigned to a desk job at the Treasury Department and pines for the opportunity to return to the White House.

A year later, President Asher is meeting with the South Korean Prime Minister, when suddenly a North Korean paramilitary organization manages to overtake the White House with breathless speed, thanks to meticulous planning and the element of surprise. Led by its leader Kang (Rick Yune), the group manages to hold the President hostage in his bunker, along with Vice President Charlie Rodriguez (Phil Austin), Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillan (Melissa Leo), and several other key members of government.

In the meantime, Speaker of the House Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) is charged with the powers of the presidency and must coordinate a response along with the Pentagon and Secret Service Director Lynn Jacobs (Angela Bassett). Fortunately, Butler decided to mosey over to the White House in an effort to stop the attack, and finds himself essentially trapped in the building. He becomes the last real hope to save the president’s life and to save the country from an even greater disaster.

By far the most entertaining and thoroughly shocking scene occurs in the 13 minutes it takes for Kang and his team to overtake the White House. Even with the aid of traitor ex-Secret Service agent Forbes (Dylan McDermott), the entire sequence is stunning to watch and wholly unbelievable. Despite the implausibility of the event, it’s easy to just sit there with your jaw dropped as our sacred landmarks are totally decimated by an enemy that is clearly two steps ahead of our own national defense.

Virtually every member of the government portrayed in this film seems fairly weak and acts somewhat irrational in the face of adversity. While it’s not clear if Fuqua meant it to be this way, Eckhart’s President Asher is hardly a strong leader, bowing to pressure and allowing the situation to get worse. He comes across as a likable man, but not presidential. The same goes for Freeman, who at times tries to sound tough, but the script has him making horrible decisions. Freeman is always a treat to watch on screen, but the character he tries to be isn’t the character he turns out to be. Similarly, Leo seems relish at the opportunity for her character to scream and yell, without offering much substance or doing anything helpful.

The unquestioned star of the film though is Butler, who has been on a bit of a losing streak lately with films, but Olympus may be the role that reenergizes his action career. Butler transforms into commando super hero in the White House, and it’s enjoyable to watch him kick ass and take names. Similarly, Yune comes across as a fairly convincing and viable villain in playing Kang.

Still, acting is really secondary in this action thriller. Fuqua is best known for directing Training Day, and he keeps you on your toes in Olympus Has Fallen. Throughout the film, you find yourself asking “how in the world is this possible?”, while Fuqua vividly brings this extraordinary situation to life in a way that is just believable enough to watch.

The film has plenty of cheesy and ridiculous moments. The visual effects even look a bit shoddy at times. But what Olympus Has Fallen manages to be is a thoroughly engaging flick the captures your attention and has you actively rooting for national pride. And at the end of the day, it makes this film worth the price of admission.