Monday, March 14, 2016

'London Has Fallen' review

I read an article the other day called "Revenge of the Simple: How George W. Bush gave rise to Trump," which, of course, is about the Donald Trump phenomenon and how George W. Bush started the beginning of the end of American politics. It was written by Matt Taibbi over at Rolling Stone, and it's a really fascinating read that deconstructs a lot of things about our culture. But there's a specific part of the article that I want to focus on. At one point, Taibbi explains how the media demonizes intelligence in the country, knocking it as pretentiousness. He connects this back to Hollywood movies, especially those in the action genre. "The hero in American culture, meanwhile, was always a moron with a big gun," says Taibbi "who learned everything he needed to know from cowboy movies. The climax of pretty much every action movie from the mid-eighties on involved shotgunning the smarty-pants villain in the face before he could finish some fruity speech about whatever." Now, I'm always quick to defend Hollywood entertainment. For instance, the movie that Taibbi is directly referencing, Die Hard, is a great example of action done well.

But as I watched London Has Fallen, the latest "Die Hard in the ____" movie to hit theaters, I fully realized Taibbi's point. When people talk about dumb action movies, this is what they're talking about. When people look at American culture and see total and complete emptiness, this is what they're talking about. Ridiculous, over-dramatic, absurdly patriotic (this movie ends with Morgan Freeman saying "God Bless the United States of America!"), brutally violent and borderline offensive, London Has Fallen is a ludicrous crapfest of bullets, blood, and one-liners. At any moment, I was fully expecting the song "America, F**k Yeah!" to burst through the theater speakers. Desolate on a character, story and emotional level, London Has Fallen is one of the worst action movies to come around in recent years.

A few years removed from the disastrous events of Olympus Has Fallen, Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is still defending President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) from the danger that is always lurking. However, Banning is about to have his first child, and he's seriously considering submitting his resignation. Unfortunately, all of that is put to the side when the British Prime Minister suddenly dies, with most of the world leaders heading to his funeral. Banning, Lynn Jacobs (Angela Bassett) and Asher head to London for the event, which is billed as one of the most heavily protected events in human history. Yeah, right. Soon enough, Aamir Barkawi (Alon Aboutboul) and his army of revenge-seeking terrorists hijack the capital, assassinating world leaders and putting the life of President Asher in severe danger. As usual, it's up to the always-resourceful Banning to save the future of the free world.

It's all non-stop action from start to finish, culminating in a predictably endless series of chases, shootouts and showdowns. For some audiences seeking a barrage of banal surface-level pleasures, London Has Fallen will deliver in spades. There's barely a moment that goes by in this film where some poor sucker isn't being shot in the face, so if that sounds like a great time at the movies, by all means, see this film. But for anyone else, London Has Fallen will be an incredibly painful 99 minutes. In all honesty, beyond the fact that it has some big-name stars, it lacks the fundamental ingredients to qualify as a film. Shoddy pacing, thinly drawn characters, painfully cheap effects, cringeworthy dialogue, offensively high amounts of xenophobia, lack of any sense of motivation- anything that could go wrong, goes wrong.

It would be easy to place all of the blame on relatively inexperienced director Babak Najafi, who was previously best known for Easy Money II: Hard to Kill. But that would be a big mistake. Surprisingly, Najafi's directing is solid, bringing some intensity to the otherwise rote action scenes. There's a spectacular tracking shot that feels like it's in the wrong movie, sweeping us through a high-octane street fight with an impressive sense of energy. It was one of the few moments where I felt excited by what I was watching on the screen, and it was so good that it actually took me out of the movie (not that I was complaining).

Unfortunately, the rookie director seems to be the only one who showed up to work. The cast is mostly wasted on a group of thin characters, with esteemed actors like Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo, and Robert Forster working with material that literally isn't there. Aaron Eckhart's President Asher has no definition whatsoever, Angela Bassett is stuck with one of the dumbest moments in a really dumb movie, and Jackie Earle Haley just sits there. Gerard Butler does fine with the action scenes, but he lacks the likability to turn a dimwitted character into someone that the audiences cares about. The screenwriting team has a basic misunderstanding of what makes a character like this work. In Die Hard, John McClane is smart, clever and resourceful. He's in a tough situation, and the audience can relate to that. In contrast, Mike Banning is purely unlikable- brash and brutal, this is a character that does so many unnecessarily violent things that it's sickening to a point.

But honestly, none of this is especially shocking considering the fact that the team of four screenwriters don't seem to get much of anything right. On top of having nothing but two-dimensional stock characters, London Has Fallen abandons any sense of logic in favor of spectacle. The film barely runs 100 minutes, and yet, I would bargain that a good hour of it is spent solely on bombastic action scenes, with effects that would barely work in the early 1990s. Oh, but it only gets worse. On top of that, the villains are as flat and uninteresting as possible, mixing cliched motivations with poor characterization. Led by Barkawi, they're Middle Eastern terrorists (of course!) who are hellbent on revenge, and have magically created this grand plan to kill everybody. Don't ask about the "How?" or the "Why?" and it all plays swimmingly. Basically, if you don't care about things like plot or character development, it's a blast.

To close out my review of this lovely movie that I hope to never speak about again, I'll give you a brief description of a scene from London Has Fallen. Mike gets a terrorist on the phone, who in turn, informs Mike that his name is Kamran. Banning responds by saying something to the extent of: "All right, you listen here Cameron. I'm ready to come in, kick your ass and send you back to whatever Stan you came from." It was like listening to something from Cloyd Rivers' Twitter page. Except it was in a movie. A movie that I paid money to see.

Hollywood. Please stop this madness before it's too late.

THE FINAL GRADE:  D                                                 (4/10)

Image Credits: Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Screen Rant, Joblo

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