Rated R for strong violence and language throughout.
Running time: 99 minutes.
One star out of four.
“London Has Fallen” is Donald Trump in film form.
And not even in the funny, Funny-or-Die film form, which knowingly luxuriates in the ludicrousness of his bombastic persona. “London Has Fallen” is a shot of Trump’s jingoistic viciousness straight to the veins.
In this numbingly violent, over-the-top sequel to 2013’s “Olympus Has Fallen,” all Westerners are innocent targets of terrorism. All Muslims are single-minded extremists. And only one man — Gerard Butler, once again swallowing his Scottish accent to play the nation’s most indestructible Secret Service agent — can stop them.
It’s: “America, Fuck Yeah!” with zero irony.
But let’s try to set aside the fear-based philosophical and political underpinnings for a moment and just focus on “London Has Fallen” for its entertainment value as an action flick: It’s actually kind of dull in its monotony. Director Babak Najafi whips up a couple of cool sequences that stand out amid the relentless gunfire and cacophonous destruction. One takes place inside a spinning helicopter as it’s under attack; the camera spins, too, from inside the chopper and then outside as it slams into the side of a building before crashing to the ground. In the other, he creates the sensation of a lengthy, unbroken take as Butler’s outnumbered but undaunted Mike Banning tries to hold off a barrage of enemy gunfire down a long, narrow street in the black of night.
And that’ll just about do it for the complimentary portion of this review.
Najafi, by the way, was born in Iran and makes his English-language directing debut with “London Has Fallen.” Helming a massive action picture with a cast featuring Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Jackie Earle Haley, Melissa Leo and Robert Forster probably sounded like an attractive challenge, but I can’t help but wonder what he thought of the film’s ideology. (The screenplay is credited to four people, including the husband-and-wife team of Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt, who also wrote “Olympus Has Fallen.”)
The premise this time is that the British prime minister has died suddenly, which means all the world’s leaders must convene in London for his funeral. That includes Eckhart’s president of the United States, Benjamin Asher, with the ever-reliable and wisecracking head of his detail, Banning, as well as Bassett’s Lynne Jacobs, the Secret Service chief. Also arriving to pay their respects are the leaders of Germany, Italy, France, Japan and Canada.
Despite insistence from the local authorities that security is super tight, Banning has a bad feeling about this — and as it turns out, he’s right. Plus, at the film’s start, he’s about to quit his job to spend more time with his pregnant wife (Radha Mitchell), who’s on the verge of giving birth at any moment. Of course something terrible was going to happen.
Middle Eastern Evil Guy Amir Barkawi (Alon Aboutboul), an internationally wanted arms dealer, takes the opportunity not only to assassinate all these heads of state but decimate London’s centuries-old landmarks in the process. He does this to avenge the killing of his daughter two years earlier on her wedding day in a drone strike that was meant for him. And he does it by infiltrating the police force and through general high-tech omnipotence.
From there, Banning’s main assignment is to get the president out of London, but first he must stop the evildoers who’ve taken over the city, making movement and communication nearly impossible. Back home, the vice president (Freeman) and various cabinet members and security chiefs wait and worry as they watch the devastating images from London and receive threats from Barkawi, who promises he’ll kill President Asher at 8 p.m. Gunfire, gunfire and more gunfire ensue. But sometimes, Banning also gets to stab someone as he protects the president, and he literally twists the knife with glee as he does it.
Superficially, their adrenalized adventures are meant to be thrilling. But fundamental to the duo’s quest to survive is an us-vs.-them mentality that’s offensive in the overly simplistic way it panders to fears of terrorism in general and Muslims in particular. They can’t stand us and our way of life, the film seems to be saying. These villains don’t even get the benefit of characterization beyond hatred and mastery of high-tech weaponry. They will kill as many people as they must to get to the leader of the free world. And when they do get their hands on him, they will beat and torture him cruelly.
Nearly as obnoxious is the flippant way Banning and Asher share a jovial quip each time they get out of a jam. At one point, Banning makes a joke about Asher coming out of the closet after Asher literally has stepped out of a closet. This is the level of repartee you can expect from “London Has Fallen.” Ostensibly, this brand of humor is meant to provide comic relief; instead, it’s cringe-inducing.
I hated “London Has Fallen” so much that as soon as I got out of the screening, I changed the Waze voice on my phone from the smooth, comforting tones of Freeman back to Thomas, the British guy who mispronounces major Los Angeles streets like La Cienega and Sepulveda. Hopefully, no more cities have to fall.