It’s not as if it’s taboo to mine the American presidency for outrageous popcorn-movie entertainment. Recall Harrison Ford as a two-fisted commander in chief in “Air Force One,” or freshly sprung president/hostage Donald Pleasence grabbing an Uzi at the end of “Escape From New York.” We could also talk about “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” but let’s not.
Now comes “Olympus Has Fallen,” which casts Gerard Butler in “Die Hard” mode as a Secret Service agent left to single-handedly rescue the president (Aaron Eckhart) from North Korean terrorists who’ve taken the White House. But this is no Bruce Willis smirkfest. We’re halfway through the movie before director Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”) starts giving Butler the occasional dark quip, and by that time it’s an insufficient weapon. Pop jingoism isn’t easy to stir once you’ve established a vibe that’s so deflating. In a post-9/11 world, how do you show catastrophic imagery of the Washington Monument crashing down (at the hands of someone other than aliens, at least), and then invite the audience to hop aboard for a rah-rah thrill ride? Awkwardly, that’s how.