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This film image released by FilmDistrict shows Gerard Butler in a scene from "Olympus Has Fallen." (AP Photo/FilmDistrict, Phil Caruso)

Movie Review: D.C.-based popcorn thriller maintains suspense

'Olympus Has Fallen'

In a week when North Korea posted a homemade video showing the U.S. Capitol building being destroyed by a missile, what more logical response could Hollywood offer than a macho thriller about a Secret Service agent who takes on North Korean terrorists who attack the White House? "Olympus Has Fallen" will put to the test the question of whether American audiences are ready, 12 years after Sept. 11, to watch, strictly as disposable popcorn entertainment, a film in which the United States and some of its most prominent landmarks are devastated by foreign terrorists.

The answer almost undoubtedly will be yes, as the tough-guy former agent played by Gerard Butler gets to kick a whole lot of badass butt while trying to rescue the president.

At its core, "Olympus" is like an '80s or '90s genre item in which Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis or Mel Gibson outwitted and outmuscled shrewd, more formidably armed opponents. Like Eastwood in "In the Line of Fire," Butler (who also produced) plays a disgraced presidential agent sidelined and haunted by a fluky failure (detailed in a 10-minute prologue) who suddenly and inadvertently finds himself back in the thick of a crisis.

If seemingly far-fetched, the attack by the North Korean paramilitary team is nonetheless ingenious and pulled off with somewhat disturbing ease, given that the White House is described as the best-fortified location on Earth. It's also quite violently staged. While President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) receives the South Korean premier and his entourage, a C-130 comes roaring in very low over Virginia and Washington, D.C. Knocking out two Air Force fighter jets, the terrorist-piloted plane heads down the mall and over toward the White House, strafing civilians while a second wave of gunmen launch a ground attack on the presidential mansion.

Inside, the premier's alleged head of security shows his true colors as the plot's mastermind. Kang (Rick Yune) quickly displays the diabolical genius worthy of any Bond villain (which Yune once played, as another North Korean in "Die Another Day"). He rounds up the president, Secretary of Defense (Melissa Leo, in an enjoyably fierce performance) and a bunch of other top officials and takes them down to the White House's massively secured emergency underground bunker, where he tortures and kills some of his hostages.

Enter Mike Banning (Butler), who knows the White House inside and out due to his years serving not only the president but entertaining his young son Connor (Finley Jacobsen), whom Kang wants as the ultimate bargaining chip. The bulk of the film thus becomes an elaborate cat-and-mouse game between Banning, who, against great odds, taunts Kang and gradually reduces his minions' numbers in several ambushes and one-on-one struggles, and the North Korean megalomaniac.

To his credit, director Antoine Fuqua sustains the suspense until near the end of two hours; only in the final confrontation between Banning and Kang does the face-off seem overextended and borderline risible.