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Angel Has Fallen may not be appreciably better than the first two installments of this lower-middle-range Mission: Impossible wannabe franchise, but it’s actually more fun — first and foremost because of a vastly amusing turn by Nick Nolte as Gerard Butler’s eccentric Vietnam vet old coot father. Outfitted with a dizzying body count and robust R-rated mayhem, this late summer action entry brandishes a small war’s worth of bloody violence and heavy artillery to lure boys young and old to theaters, where the 2013 and 2016 entries both landed in the $200 million box office range worldwide.
The first thing you can’t help but notice is that Butler is getting a bit puffy around the gills as he pushes 50; not only that, but the president’s personal Secret Service macho man Mike Banning is experiencing disorienting dizzy spells that suggest that a move from the field to a desk job may be in order.
Release date: Aug 23, 2019
Still, it doesn’t take long for Banning to once again prove that one of him, however diminished he may be, is worth a dozen of anyone else when it comes to protecting the President of the United States, who, in a bit of wish-fulfillment fantasizing, is played by Morgan Freeman and not, let’s say, by Alec Baldwin.
In an elaborate set piece notable for its body count, President Allan Trumbull’s entire security staff is wiped out while protecting the chief executive during a fishing expedition not far from Washington; only his personal bodyguard, Banning, manages to keep the president alive during this frightful onslaught by what look like brilliantly trained mercenaries.
But what thanks does he get for his heroism? Instant blame for the whole bloody fiasco from Vice President Kirby (Tim Blake Nelson), who insists that Banning is in cahoots with the Russians, has him charged with the attempted murder of the president and is immediately sworn in as acting president.
From here, screenwriters Robert Mark Kamen, Matt Cook and Ric Roman Waugh — the latter of whom also directed, as he did on the previous series entry — clearly spent most of their creative energy figuring out multiple ways in which Banning could wriggle out of seemingly inescapable predicaments, get caught or subdued again, then bust his way out to fight yet another day. Kirby’s first hours as president don’t go very well, as Banning slips through his fingers in short order.
Waugh’s background is as a stuntman, and he no doubt put a lot of his old cohorts to work on this one; bodies go flying every 20 minutes or so, as Banning at one point escapes in, of all things, a big rig, and you begin to think you’re bearing witness to the reincarnation of Hal Needham. It’s all utterly preposterous, and yet Waugh handles the big scenes pretty well, or at least well enough (and with sufficient self-aware humor) that you’re willing to go along with Banning’s mad attempt to elude the traitors and save the country from servitude to Russian-backed goons.
But what really lifts things in the second half is the frequent presence of Nolte. Literally in the woods for the umpteenth time in the film (which was largely shot in Bulgaria, with London locations passing adequately for D.C.), Banning surprises his old man, who, with his gut and untended white hair and beard, resembles a cross between Santa Claus and Gabby Hayes. The definition of living off the grid, the geezer at first comes off strictly as a gun-toting, stay-off-my-land right-wing nutjob but, happily, he soon develops into significantly more than that to become a key player in how matters come together for Banning as well as the latter’s wife, Leah (Piper Perabo), and young daughter. Single-handedly, Nolte lifts the entire confection two or three notches above what it would have been without him.
Also taking the action to higher ground in the second half is Danny Huston as the main bad guy, a conscience-and-loyalty-free mercenary who’s willing to use the small army at his disposal to wreak havoc and bring down the government simply for personal gain. Huston plays it with a sense of focus and entitlement that’s at least mildly disturbing even in such an outlandish context, as well as being welcome compared to the semi-cartoonishness of Nelson as the in-White House traitor and Jada Pinkett Smith as an eternally cranked-up FBI leader.
And no offense to Aaron Eckhart, who played the president in the first two Fallen installments, but how calming and reassuring it is to see Freeman as the leader of the free world. Here, after all, is a man who has played Nelson Mandela, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, God (not once but twice) and, lest we forget, the CEO of Wayne Enterprises; his presence alone provides a good vibe.
Production company: Millennium Films/G-Base
Cast: Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Jada Pinkett Smith, Lance Reddick, Tim Blake Nelson, Riper Perabo, Nick Nolte, Danny Huston, Joseph Millson
Director: Ric Roman Waugh
Screenwriters: Robert Mark Kamen, Matt Cook, Ric Roman Waugh; story by Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt; based on characters created by Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt
Producers: Gerard Butler, Alan Siegel, Matt O’Toole, John Thompson, Les Weddon, Yariv Lerner
Executive producers: Andrey Georgiev, Christa Campbell, Lati Grobman, Mark Gill, Avi Lerner, Trevor Short, Heidi Jo Markel, David Bernardi, Jeffrey Greenstein, Jonathan Yunger
Director of photography: Jules O’Loughlin
Production designer: Russell De Rozario
Costume designer: Stephanie Collie
Editor: Gabriel Fleming
Music: David Buckley
Casting: Dan Hubbard
Rated R, 121 minutes
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