No characterization. A plot you could write on a single sheet of toilet paper. Sadistic violence we’re meant to cheer. A surprise that wouldn’t fool anyone who left the theater after the opening credits and came back for the last 10 minutes.
Jokes directed at snotty French people and time-conscious Japanese. Jingoistic tripe about saving the Free World from Muslim terrorists – only the U.S. can do that, of course – ending in a speech by the vice president that supplies the last line of the film: “God bless the United States of America.”
And dialogue like this:
Head of a British commando squad surrounding a building full of Pakistanis: “There must be a hundred terrorists in there!”
American Secret Service agent, before blasting in alone: “Yeah? Well, they shoulda brought more men!”
Yes, 2016 has a new, possibly unbeatable champion in the Brainless Action category: “London Has Fallen,” which may also set a record for Oscar nominees in meaningless roles. I counted five, including Angela Bassett; this strong, dignified actress plays the head of the U.S. Secret Service like a scream queen in a B horror movie.
I blew off “Olympus Has Fallen” three years ago, because I knew I would soon have to see “White House Down.” One “lone-lawman-protects-U.S.-president-and-child-during-White-House-attack” movie per year is my limit.
So I went into “London Has Fallen,” a loosely conceived sequel, without many preconceptions. Director Babak Najafi, who shot two episodes of “Banshee” in North Carolina two years ago, plows his way through a patchwork script by four writers, but he’s trying to pick up handfuls of dust.
A rogue Pakistani arms dealer survives a drone strike that kills his daughter. In revenge, he poisons the prime minister of England. When world leaders gather to mourn, the arms dealer’s men – who infiltrate the British police force, security service and even the Beefeaters outside Buckingham Palace – mow down thousands of people and detonate explosive devices everywhere from Parliament to Big Ben.
U.S. President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) escapes on foot, abetted only by Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler). But one good American with a full clip is worth dozens of Pakis, and Mike stabs, shoots, chokes, concusses and runs over the opposition.
The villains hope to catch Asher and execute him on international TV. The Brits counsel Mike to wait for help when he’s separated from his boss. “I’m gonna go get him,” Mike replies. “You can kill me, or you can come with me. But it ain’t gonna go any other way.”
I’m left with two questions. First, Babak Najafi Karami (as he was born) comes from Iran, and I assume he was raised as a Muslim. Did he feel any anxiety about stereotyping people of his religion as murderers and criminals?
And the next time a city falls, could makeup artists put a smudge on Gerard Butler after his character runs through fire, gets shot, takes blows to the head and falls through a floor and down 12 feet? I’m not asking for a cast or even a sling, but a one-inch scratch would be nice. Otherwise, it’s not believable.
‘London Has Fallen’
Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett.
Director: Babak Najafi.
Length: 99 minutes.
Rating: R (strong violence and language throughout).