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In Theaters: ANGEL HAS FALLEN (2019)

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ANGEL HAS FALLEN
(US - 2019)

Directed by Ric Roman Waugh. Written by Robert Mark Kamen, Matt Cook and Ric Roman Waugh. Cast: Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Danny Huston, Nick Nolte, Jada Pinkett Smith, Piper Perabo, Lance Reddick, Tim Blake Nelson, Joseph Millson, Ori Pfeffer, Rocci-Boy Williams, Michael Landes. (R, 121 mins)

The third entry in a franchise so ridiculous that the only thing preventing Donald Trump from offering Gerard Butler a cabinet position is a presumed inability to correctly pronounce "Gerard," ANGEL HAS FALLEN dials down the raging "America! Fuck yeah!" boner of its two predecessors--2013's OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN and 2016's LONDON HAS FALLEN--which proved to be surprisingly popular mash-ups of the Cannon jingoism of the '80s with the dogshit CGI of the '10s. This time, Mike Banning (Butler), the head of Secret Service detail for OLYMPUS House Speaker, LONDON vice president and now President Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman), is in the running for a cushy D.C. desk job as a reward for his years of risking life and limb but is battling PTSD, chronic migraines, back pain, and a secret painkiller addiction that he's kept from his wife Leah (Piper Perabo, replacing Radha Mitchell). While on a routine detail on a presidential fishing trip in Pennsylvania, Trumbull's entire Secret Service team is wiped out by a drone attack, with Banning and the president barely escaping with their lives, the latter winding up in ICU in a coma. Banning awakens to find himself handcuffed to his hospital bed and informed by Secret Service director Gentry (Lance Reddick) and FBI Special Agent Thompson (Jada Pinkett Smith) that he's under arrest for the attempted assassination of the president and the premeditated murder of nearly two dozen Secret Service agents. His fingerprints and DNA were found in a van used to house the bat-like drones, and they've uncovered a secret bank account in his name with $10 million traced back to Russia.





With Trumbull incapacitated, Vice President Kirby (Tim Blake Nelson) is sworn in as acting president and, seeking revenge against the apparent Russian plot to assassinate Trumbull, immediately announces a return to the use of paramilitary contractors, namely Salient, a company owned by Wade Jennings (Danny Huston), Banning's old Army buddy who was really hoping that Banning could talk the anti-contractor Trumbull into offering him a lucrative deal. Meanwhile, Banning can't convince anyone he's been set up, and when Salient mercenaries take down his prisoner transport, he manages to escape and make his way to the isolated, rural West Virginia makeshift compound of his estranged father Clay (Nick Nolte), a grizzled, paranoid, anti-government mountain man who was so haunted by his time in Vietnam that he left his wife and young Mike and went off the grid. Realizing he's been set up by his old friend--and perhaps someone more powerful pulling the strings--and is now the most wanted fugitive in America, Banning reluctantly bonds with and gets some help from Clay before heading back to the hospital in Pennsylvania in an attempt to save the president's life and prove his innocence once and for all.


The last time Morgan Freeman played the US president was in 1998's asteroid-headed-toward-Earth opus DEEP IMPACT, and that was probably a more plausible film than ANGEL HAS FALLEN. The villainy of Wade is obvious from the outset, since he's played by Danny Huston, but the mid-film reveal of the real string-puller will only be a surprise if you've never seen a movie before. But relatively speaking, ANGEL is a bit less cartoonish than the two films that came before it, and is refreshingly devoid of Banning's smart-ass quips clanging to the ground, such as OLYMPUS'"Let's play a few rounds of Fuck Off...you're it!" and LONDON's "Why don't you boys pack up your shit and go back to Fuckheadistan?" That doesn't mean it's a gritty political thriller, but director and former stuntman Ric Roman Waugh (FELON, SNITCH, SHOT CALLER) has a knack for solid action and suspense sequences, including a striking late-film shootout over multiple stories overlooking a hospital lobby. There's also some--but not much--attempt at timely, nudging commentary with Banning being accused of Russian collusion and one key character being a dead ringer for (at press time and subject to change at any moment) Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, which should guarantee that actor's casting in the inevitable HBO miniseries chronicling the Trump presidency.


NOLTE!
Look, like the entire HAS FALLEN trilogy, ANGEL is dumb. But unlike OLYMPUS, it doesn't show a series of establishing second-unit shots of the Washington Monument, the Capitol Building, and the White House accompanied by the caption "Washington, D.C." (it was shot at London's Pinewood Studios and in Bulgaria, with the interstate highways of Pennsylvania and West Virginia looking strangely Eastern European). And it is amazing how Banning has managed to have the kind of career he's had, being the human shield for two presidents, with no one ever finding out about his crazy, off-the-grid, government-hating dad, or how every new-looking truck he manages to steal while on the run is somehow lacking in GPS or anyone reporting it stolen, or how Salient goons manage to get into Banning's house despite cops, Feds, and the media camped right out front. It is what it is, and the digital effects by the Bulgarian clown crew at Worldwide FX are as amateurish as ever, but Butler does his thing, Freeman's dignified presidential gravitas comes natural and is curiously comforting, and Huston is as smug and sneering as ever, which is the reason you hire Danny Huston. But never mind all that. What's really key in making ANGEL HAS FALLEN the most entertaining of the trilogy so far is Nolte. The 78-year-old living legend doesn't turn up until the midway point, but from his first appearance, he steals the film from everyone and instantly reminds you that he's a goddamn national treasure. Notoriously eccentric enough that his casting as a grizzled old mountain man seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy, Nolte gives this everything he's got, reveling in some hilarious one-liners ("You're welcome!") and back-and-forth bantering with Butler ("What is this, your manifesto?" Banning asks when he sees a stack of papers on Clay's table). Clay delivers an emotional, gut-wrenching monologue about how he felt chewed up and spit out by his country after his time in Vietnam that's so good that I wouldn't be surprised if Nolte wrote it himself. ANGEL HAS FALLEN is pretty standard as far as these formulaic things go, but it comes alive and steps up its game whenever Nolte is onscreen. When it's all over, you might ask yourself if every movie could benefit from having a madman-bearded Nick Nolte muttering, grumbling, and being a conspiratorial, cantankerous, and shotgun-toting old curmudgeon. The outtakes on the eventual Blu-ray have to be gold.



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