At least twice in the past few weeks, the world as we know it has been threatened with nuclear annihilation…wait a minute, I didn’t mean to scare you (North Korea notwithstanding)—I’m discussing my recent trips to see Olympus Has Fallen and G.I. Joe: Retaliation, two noisy, explosion-packed wannabe summer blockbusters relegated to a late March release (presumably less cinematic competition).
Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen is the first of two “White House is down” releases (the second one called, not so coincidentally White House Down, is due later this year) and in this one, the fate of the free world is in the hands of --Gerard Butler (more about him later). After a pretty effective opening involving Ashley Judd’s First Lady and some snowy, slippery roads, we see former lead Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Butler) pulled back into some very active duty when the White House is taken over by some well-trained, utterly ruthless North Korean terrorists who hold the President and other officials hostage in the White House bunker. These terrorists not only want the U.S. military to withdraw from Korea—they also want the access codes to America’s nuclear weapons (hint: it’s not for the purpose of disabling them). Most of the film consists of Banning/Butler trying to outwit/outkill the terrorists who enter the White House looking for him, as he remains in remote contact with the Pentagon high command led by Robert Forster, and the acting President, Morgan Freeman (who’s gone this route before in another end-of-days movie, Deep Impact…I wonder if there’s a hidden message there). The numerous action sequences are effective and pull no punches in terms of carnage and bloodletting; once the White House is captured, Fuqua succeeds in maintaining the tension--and yet, I wish there had been another man to handle the hero chores besides Butler; he is probably the least charismatic action figure out there, and doesn’t bring much to the role other than a generic grim determination.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation involves such good Joes as Roadblock (the ubiquitous Dwayne Johnson—look around, he’s in everything), Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) going rogue in order thwart the evil Cobra from taking over the world. Jonathan Pryce is put to good use in a dual role as the President and the ultra-evil Zartan, while Bruce Willis and Channing Tatum swing by to pick up their checks and try to keep the world safe for democracy. Lots of sound and fury--in the foreground and the background, as there would be in a decibel-blasting video game-- signifying nothing. Quite disposable.
The Call – Halle Berry and Abigail Breslin carry the show as, respectively, a 911 operator and a frightened but resourceful captive (of a homicidal maniac). A harrowing opening sequence leads into a gripping first two-thirds, as operator Berry tries to keep it together for Breslin’s sake and make up for a past (fatal) error in judgment. The last third slackens and then goes off the rails, but Berry does her best work in a while. Nice cameo by Michael Imperioli.
Admission –Tina Fey is a Princeton admissions counselor who is pressured (by would-be romantic interest Paul Rudd) into deciding the academic fate of a young man--who just may well be the son she gave up for adoption. There are problems with the movie: much of the script and plotting feels forced; the romance is weak; Rudd’s character is underdeveloped (and underplayed), but Lily Tomlin is a welcome sight as Fey’s rebel of a mother, and Fey is quite good throughout, notably when she counters the taunts of some high school students with some well-aimed verbal volleys of her own, and in some well-played confrontations with Tomlin, expertly embodying independence with an undercurrent of regret.