During "Olympus Has Fallen," half the time I kept thinking, "This is really exciting!" and the other half, "This is really stupid!"
In the end, "exciting" won out, but not by much.
It's a cool idea: The White House falls to terrorists, with the President and staff held hostage in a bunker far below; only one man, a disgraced but decent Secret Service agent (Gerard Butler), remains inside to save the day.
Above, this film image released by FilmDistrict shows Gerard Butler in a scene from “Olympus Has Fallen.”
Trouble is, to pull off this outlandish scenario, "Olympus" throws common sense under the bus and the sight of it being squashed flat is far from pleasant.
I won't waste time shooting holes in the plot; suffice it to say that if it were really this easy to launch an aerial assault on Washington and seize the White House, killing every available cop and agent - well, need I say more? Surely someone would have done it by now.
Yet even with this set-up in place, the script keeps cranking out absurdities, including a fictitious "Cerberus" device that can detonate every American nuclear warhead at the behest of only three individuals.
Similarly, the repeated capitulations to terrorist demands feel neither likely nor flattering to the characters; would the President's life really be worth all the mayhem they're willing to trade for it?
Yet "Olympus" hurtles forward at a steady clip, generally engaging our concern and interest in spite of its ridiculous plot.
Some credit goes to the solid cast, including Aaron Eckhart as the President, plus veteran character actors Melissa Leo, Robert Forster and Cole Hauser.
Morgan Freeman is particularly strong as the acting president (isn't he the leader you'd want in a crisis?); and Butler is muscular and charismatic in a role that, after some recent misfires, is perfectly suited to his persona.
Director Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day") keeps the action fast and crisp; most of the movie's fights and chases are effectively suspenseful, even if we do sometimes wonder why assailants keep resorting to fists when scads of guns are lying about.
The general air of unreality is exacerbated by ubiquitous (and not too convincing) computer-generated imagery; even the falling flag has been digitized!
I also wondered whether government officials really are prone to so much swearing; one hopes Hilary Clinton didn't use the f-bomb quite as often as Leo's Secretary of State does here.
Together with a massive body count and copious bloodshed, the movie certainly earns its R rating.
Speaking of which: This is one of those films in which profanity substitutes for thoughtful dialog; despite their education and experience with speaking, these high-profile victims can't seem to think of any other way to express their anger and determination.
But then, weak writing might be expected from a film that introduces major characters with subtitles listing their government post.
Like so much else in "Olympus," it's not exactly awful, but it sure is lazy.
**1/2 (out of four)
The film is rated R for language and violence.