Friday, March 4, 2016

London Has Fallen: Xenophobic propaganda

London Has Fallen (2016) • View trailer 
2.5 stars. Rated R, for relentless violence and profanity

By Derrick Bang

Aaron Eckhart’s Benjamin Asher surely is the unluckiest U.S. President in cinema history.

Bad enough that he only narrowly survived being held hostage by North Korean terrorists, in 2013’s deplorably violent and inexcusably jingoistic Olympus Has Fallen. Now, drawn to London to attend the state funeral of the British Prime Minister, President Asher finds himself targeted — along with half a dozen other Western European heads of state — by a lethal arms dealer who also is one of the world’s most wanted criminals.

When their helicopter is shot down by rooftop terrorists armed with Stinger missiles, ace
Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler, right) is the only man left to protect
U.S. President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) from hoards of gun-toting thugs.
Fortunately, in both cases, ace Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is on hand to save the day.

For the most part, director Babak Najafi’s London Has Fallen is the sort of bullet-laden action thriller that generally goes straight to late-night time slots on Cinemax and lesser cable/satellite movie channels. The plot is predictably silly, the good guys utterly indestructible — aside from those dispatched as sacrificial lambs — and the bad guys thoroughly reprehensible.

The difference, as was the case with this series’ first entry, is that London Has Fallen boasts a better-than-average cast, with Butler and Eckhart supported by Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett and numerous other solid character actors. But even good actors can’t do much with dumb scripts, a grim premise and vapid execution.

Najafi brings nothing to the party. His camera set-ups are humdrum, and he hasn’t the faintest idea how to build suspense. This is little more than run and shoot, run and shoot.

The (modestly) good news is that this new film isn’t quite as offensively pugnacious as its predecessor, which was scripted solely by Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt. They’re assisted this time by co-writers Christian Gudegast and Chad St. John, although I can’t imagine why four people were required to write such a simplistic, comic book plot.

On top of which, the flag-waving, gung-ho patriotism that Rothenberger and Benedikt established in Olympus is just as evident here, and perhaps even more so. Films of this nature are an embarrassment, with their suggestion that brave and resourceful Americans — and only Americans — are the one thing preventing maddened terrorists from invading and controlling the entire free world.

Which is to say, this script is offensively cavalier with its treatment of government officials — and their colleagues — from France, Italy, Germany, Japan and elsewhere. I guess the British should feel lucky that they get to help Banning. A little.

This new adventure’s core catastrophe has its origins during a prologue taking place two years earlier, as vile international arms dealer Aamir Barkawi (Alon Moni Aboutboul) attends the wedding of his daughter. Unknown to all present, Western satellite cameras have tracked Barkawi to this event, and an authorized drone strike demolishes the entire compound.

At least, it sure looks like the explosion levels the place. But despite the wedding party’s close proximity to each other, Barkawi and his sons escape serious injury ... our first indication of many numb-nuts contrivances to follow. The bride, alas, is among the dead; her father and brothers swear vengeance.

That opportunity comes as the story proper begins, with numerous powerful world leaders converging on London to pay their respects. This turns out to be a meticulously planned trap, with Barkawi somehow having laced the city’s police force with scores (hundreds?) of his own mercenaries, all of whom start gunning down civilians and first responders when clandestinely planted bombs topple various iconic London structures.

One suspects that Scotland Yard’s hiring and vetting practices must be awfully sloppy, to admit so many bad apples in two short years ... but, hey, that’s the sort of detail we’re simply supposed to ignore.

Just in passing, it’s equally amazing that a few of the other world leaders are dispatched in unusual locations: one individual caught in traffic on a particular bridge, another snuffed during a spur-of-the-moment visit to one of London’s venerable landmarks. Point being, how would the bad guys know that their targeted victims would be in those spots, at precisely the right moment?

Stuff and nonsense.

Anyway, Banning manages to keep President Asher one step ahead of the gun-toting thugs, thanks to both men being conditioned joggers (as we’ve seen early on). Their ability to evade capture annoys Barkawi’s son Kamran (Waleed F. Zuaiter), who is orchestrating the carnage; he vows to start killing more civilians, unless he’s allowed to decapitate Asher during a live Internet feed.

With the net tightening, Banning reaches out to MI6 associate Jacquelin Marshall (Charlotte Riley), who controls a safe house that offers momentary respite. Banning and Marshall agree, given the degree of control Kamran has been able to exert on London’s electrical and computer grid, that MI6 must have been infiltrated by a high-level mole. Could it be Security Chief Hazard (Colin Salmon)?

Ah, but we’ve no time to ponder this particular problem, since Kamran’s men burst into the safe house, somehow having trailed our heroes there. Seriously?

Meanwhile, back in the White House war room, Vice President Trumbull (Freeman) accepts a snarky phone call from Barkawi, who coldly informs everybody that the era of Western values is at an end, and all infidels will be destroyed, yadda-yadda-yadda. Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillian (Melissa Leo) and hawkish Gen. Clegg (Robert Forster), both returning from the first film, make a few useless comments to justify their presence; newcomer Jackie Earle Haley’s Deputy Chief Mason bleats a few of his own ineffectual observations.

These folks are the White House’s best and brightest? Seriously?

All of these name co-stars obviously spent no more than a single day on this one set; their presence is utterly superfluous.

Freeman, ever the model of methodical composure, at least seems capable of some sort of intelligent response to events on the ground in London.

As also was true in the first film, Butler makes a solid action hero, with the grit and physicality that such a part requires. But his James Bond-ian efforts at mordant one-liners fall completely flat, as do his tin-eared F-bombs. Actually, everybody in this film swears a lot, often inappropriately, as if Najafi and his writers believed that relentless profanity would enhance these events. (It doesn’t. Quite the opposite.)

Bassett returns as Secret Service Director Lynne Jacobs; she, at least, shows plenty of spunk and can-do spirit. Riley is also solid as Banning’s MI6 counterpart, and Eckhart makes an amazingly resilient and resourceful U.S. president. (I guess Asher got a lot of practice, after his earlier exposure to terrorists.) Eckhart also does much better than Butler, with the off-puttingly jokey quips.

Aboutboul and Zuaiter are appropriately grim and chilling as Barkawi and his son.

Although this script takes pains to establish Barkawi as an international arms dealer, we cannot overlook the prologue’s setting in Pakistan, or the fact that all of Barkawi and Kamran’s closest fellow terrorists are the epitome of bearded Islamic fanatics, complete with taqiyahs and loose clothing. This is obviously a deliberate artistic choice, intended to provoke the paranoia and racist fury of nationalistic American imbeciles.

As was the case with Olympus Has Fallen, the line here between popcorn action thrills and irresponsibly xenophobic propaganda seems rather thin. Surely Butler and the rest of this largely wasted cast have much better ways of filling out their résumés.

And I dearly hope we won’t have to suffer through another one of these.

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