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By Matt Fleming. Imagine, if you will, a reality in which the American president is a magnet for tremendous personal tragedy: his wife is killed in a car crash, his vice-president has been murdered, and he finds himself abducted by terrorists. His only lucky charm is a handsomely rugged super-soldier who not so long ago single-handedly bitch slapped North Korean militants into submission with guns and muscles. This is the pretext that comes with London Has Fallen, a sequel that just can’t release its grip on the direness of its own fantasy.

That’s the easiest obstacle to overcome for this ill-advised sequel to Olympus Has Fallen. London borrows whatever momentum that came from Antoine Fuqua’s action-packed 2013 terrorist cluster-bomb to perplexing effect, where its unbelievable cast (which includes Robert Forster and Morgan freaking Freeman) is wasted in a jingoistic catastrophe. London, directed by Babak Najafi, glorifies the American “war on terror” while unwittingly forcing perceptive viewers to deeply consider the horrifying implications that come with it. Essentially, the film serves as propaganda, thinly disguised as a play on the buddy cop thriller. What’s worse, it’s damn-near impossible to tell if that was intentional.

Gerard Butler is Mike Banning, the one-man murdering crew hell-bent on protecting President Ben Asher (Aaron Eckhart) on the streets of London following a terror attack. That skirmish is concocted by an arms dealer named Aamir Baklawi (Alon Aboutboul, best remembered as Dr. Pavel in The Dark Knight Rises), in retaliation for a drone strike that killed or maimed most of his family. Naturally, the audience is conditioned to understand that Butler’s superman will save the day, so all that remains is to watch how things play out. (Re: explode.) Except you’ll also need to imagine far more violence and murder than Commando and The Expendables 2 combined.

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As far as the performances go… well. The script is packed with sappy clichés, bloated callbacks, and forced emotion, not to mention poor attempts at inserting humor into a multinational mass-murder. Butler borders on bloodthirsty at points, and Aaron Eckhart is as stiff as a cardboard cutout of himself. The supporting cast grapples with these challenges the best they can (which is all you can ask when a script’s been filtered through four different scribes). Strangely, someone made sure to pepper the screenplay with plenty of blue language, perhaps in an attempt to bolster the film’s R-rating beyond the omnipresent bloodshed. For a film already saddled with too many mixed messages, it certainly goes out of its way to make its POTUS say “fuck” way too often.

Najafi’s first Hollywood picture can now be widely considered as another fear piece that perpetuates some nasty stereotypes about terrorism. The film so complicates the feelings associated with drone strikes, collateral damage, and terror-as-revenge that not even a patriotic epilogue delivered by Morgan Freeman can heal the queasiness induced by two hours of rapid conflict. London Has Fallen’s take on geopolitical nuance seems wholly inappropriate during our current state of global tensions, no matter how good Gerard Butler is at murdering strangers. This could have been a fun, if sloppy, shoot-em-up were it not for the terrifying subtext upon which it is built.

Directed by Babak Najafi.

Produced by Gerard Butler, Mark Gill, Danny Lerner, Matt O’Toole, Alan Siegel, and Les Weldon.

Screenplay by Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Chad St. John, and Christian Gudegast.

Story by Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt.

Based on Characters created by Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt.

Starring Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Alon Moni Aboutboul, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Melissa Leo, and Radha Mitchell.

2.5 out of 10

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