If 15-year-old boys took business trips and mowed through paperbacks in airport bookstores, they'd make the novelization of "Olympus Has Fallen" a runaway success. It's like a Tom Clancy story for gents who have to shave only once a week. It's not particularly smart, but it does generate a sense of unbridled, gravity-free plotting and action, as if it were written under the influence of Mountain Dew Code Red and Fox News, in a tree house, the night before it was due. The script and ensuing play-acting are just a vehicle to answer this bong-hit-ilicious question: How could terrorists take over the White House and kidnap the president? Or, more to the point, how can that scenario be proffered without inspiring the audience to laugh popcorn out their noses?
You will laugh at "Olympus Has Fallen," if only at its audacity. Here's what happens. The president is Aaron Eckhart. He has an accident that leads to the dismissal of his best Secret Service agent, Gerard Butler. (Shots of flags being lowered, sounds of shrill brass and snare drums.) Time passes. The news is on. North Korea has a big army! Then, a South Korean delegation visits the White House. There's an attack on Washington, and everyone in the Oval Office scrambles into a deep bunker. The attack gets so intense that pretty soon a bunch of Korean commando-terrorists have killed practically every single person in the White House except for — our man Gerard Butler! He learns that in the bunker one of the Koreans is in fact a bad guy (Rick Yune) who's using his hostages to leverage many bad guy plans. Over at the Pentagon, Speaker of the House Morgan Freeman has been appointed acting president. He believes in agent Gerard Butler, who has to do a great deal of running and shooting and neck-breaking on behalf of America.
Getting through the whole bloody, explosiony mess will require a heavy dose of "sure, why the hell not." You wish it were "Die Hard." It wishes it were "Die Hard." Director Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day") can't quite pull off that much verisimilitude, but he steers right along the edge of groanworthy camp without ever capsizing. (Unless you count one overindulgent recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance by a delirious secretary of defense. It's like having liquid George Washington poured into your ears.) In some ways, you have to credit "Olympus" for the mistakes it didn't make. There's a subplot involving a child that wraps early instead of becoming uncomfortably manipulative. Butler and Eckhart play heroes with the right note of fear. At two hours, it's actually long enough to let the story breathe some.
It also carries an oddly classic vibe, one that harks to the Cold War shoot-'em-ups of the '80s. Almost 12 years after a truly horrific set of terrorist attacks on Washington and New York, we can once again support escapist entertainment that features a plane flown by suicide pilots, a terroristic takedown of a major government building, a crumbling landmark — and no mention whatsoever of 9/11 or al Qaeda. We've reverted to a state of quasi-comfort that only comes with distance and a sense of steady, if permeable, safety. For as many times as it was repeated, usually with a dollop of irony, during the past decade? The terrorists did not win. We know this because we still put them in our movies and let them think they're winning just before we break their necks, all for Saturday matinee kicks.