March 23 (Bloomberg) -- Does anything say “patriotism” like a lovely marble bust of Abraham Lincoln, smashed over the head of a wounded terrorist?
Certainly nothing in “Olympus Has Fallen,” an ugly, bloody rampage of jingoism, carnage and hand-me-down action-movie cliches.
Directed with no small skill by Antoine Fuqua, “Olympus” stars Gerard Butler (also a producer) as a Secret Service agent saving America from a ludicrously effective band of North Korean commandoes.
They take the White House in 13 minutes flat.
First, though, there’s a Korean warplane that strafes panicked crowds on the D.C. streets, clips the Washington Monument and generally exploits 9/11 imagery for video-game thrills.
Following an extended sequence of gunfire and blood-spattered walls, the icy Kang (Rick Yune) and his guerrilla team hunker down in an underground bunker, threatening the president (Aaron Eckhart) and defense secretary (Melissa Leo).
While next-in-charge politicos (Morgan Freeman and Angela Bassett in paycheck mode) negotiate from a war room, Butler’s stealth agent punches, tortures and shoots his way through White House halls and secret passages.
First-time screenwriters Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt lard the America-under-siege histrionics with loud-mouthed patriotism and a few half-hearted diatribes (“globalism and [blanking] Wall Street,” gripes an American traitor).
Despite some “Zero Dark Thirty” pseudo-documentary flourishes and heaps of portent, “Olympus” has nothing on its mind but blood sport, mayhem and graphic brutality.
“Olympus Has Fallen,” from FilmDistrict, is playing across the U.S. Rating: *1/2 (Evans)
Katharine Hepburn used to specialize in supercompetent women who get their comeuppance and learn to be “womanly.” Is this a lesson that still needs teaching?
Somebody thinks so. Portia Nathan, the alpha-dog Princeton admissions officer Tina Fey plays in “Admission,” doesn’t want kids. Her hellishly self-sufficient feminist mom (Lily Tomlin) doesn’t want men. As she angrily churns meat through a sausage grinder, you’re likely to think: Maybe it’s better that way.
Mostly I didn’t mind the movie’s formulaic predictability, since the cast -- which includes Paul Rudd as the head of an alternative school, Wallace Shawn as Portia’s boss and Nat Wolff as the high-school prodigy who may be the son she gave up for adoption -- nails the comic material.
I laughed a lot, until the goo started to ooze.
A less shallow movie might hesitate to take on issues about which it has nothing to say: the question of opting out of parenthood, and a university admissions process so brutal that it’s hard to evaluate the ethics of violating it.
Paul Weitz, the director, and Karen Croner, the writer, stumble blithely into these minefields. As a result, “Admissions” is more disquieting than it has a right to be.
Princeton comes off looking like a snake pit with hideously inhumane values. Students who didn’t get in may find some consolation in this movie.
“Admission,” from Focus Features, is playing across the U.S. Rating: **1/2 (Seligman)
Not even sweet soul music can turn Vietnam circa 1968 into a feel-good trip, but “The Sapphires” tries its darnedest.
Inspired by a true story, polished to a jukebox-musical sheen and enlivened with a terrific (if not always period-accurate) soundtrack, “Sapphires” charts the rise of an Australian Aboriginal girl group that entertains U.S. troops at the peak of the Vietnam war.
Cribbing a bit of “Dreamgirls” here and “The Commitments” there, director Wayne Blair turns this unlikely tale into something familiar, even cozy.
Chris O’Dowd is exceptional as the group’s good-hearted, R&B-loving Irish manager. The rest of the cast (with the iffy exception of Deborah Mailman as the cantankerous, eldest Sapphire) has more enthusiasm than chops.
“Sapphires” started life as a stage musical, and the lip-synced, overacted performances of classics like “Land of 1000 Dances” and “Soul Man” seem closer to “Glee” or “American Idol” than Motown and Muscle Shoals.
“The Sapphires,” from the Weinstein Company, is playing in select theaters. Rating: **1/2 (Evans)
What the Stars Mean: ***** Fantastic **** Excellent *** Good ** So-So * Poor (No stars) Avoid
(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are their own.)
Muse highlights include New York weekend and Jeremy Gerard on theater.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at email@example.com.