Nick Nolte and Gerard Butler in Angel Has Fallen (Photo: Lionsgate)

(SUMMER MOVIE WRAP 2019: Best Film, Biggest Disappointment, Top Moneymakers, Worst Remake, and more! For a look at the highlights and low points of the cinema season, go here.)

ANGEL HAS FALLEN
** (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Ric Roman Waugh
STARS Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman

Gerard Butler’s “Fallen” series began with the tacky Olympus Has Fallen and continued with the toxic London Has Fallen. And now there’s Angel Has Fallen, which has the dubious distinction of emerging as the best of the trio. Its chief selling points are that it’s not as stridently stupid as Olympus nor as obnoxiously xenophobic as London. It also adds Nick Nolte to the principal cast — that’s a definite plus, even if the actor’s voice sounds like he’s now gargling glass shards daily and his ever-expanding whiskers seem poised to take over the world.

Nolte takes the field later in the game as Clay Banning, the father of Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Butler). Mike Banning, you see, has been framed for an assassination attempt on President Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman). The evidence against Banning is overwhelming, so much so that it recalls that moment in Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report when Colin Farrell’s sharp investigator examines the copious evidence against Tom Cruise’s innocent cop and dismisses it as “an orgy of evidence,” immediately realizing that it was all planted. The law officers in this film (primarily repped by Jada Pinkett Smith as a grumpy FBI agent) aren’t that bright, as they instantly disregard all the remarkable and heroic actions undertaken by Bannon throughout his career (had none of them ever rented Olympus Has Fallen or London Has Fallen from Netflix?) and instead fixate on incriminating clues that might have given even Inspector Clouseau pause.

Mike soon finds himself on the run from the authorities, with the film turning into an ersatz version of The Fugitive. The thrills are so minimal, in fact, that the picture has less in common with the Harrison Ford blockbuster and more in common with its MAD magazine (RIP) spoof, The Stooge-itive. Fearing that Tommy Lee Jones will eventually join the manhunt, Mike decides to hide out at the mountain lair of his estranged father, who of course is a loony Vietnam vet constantly railing against government conspiracies and cover-ups. Still, Nolte brings life to both this worn-out character and to the movie itself.

Perhaps realizing that they overdid it with the jingoistic aggressiveness in London Has Fallen, the filmmakers pull back with this one, even going so far as to include a counterpoint quip about Russia’s election meddling. Otherwise, this is the sort of blunt action flick we can expect from a series that’s always been on autopilot, with little to distinguish one gun battle from another.

The picture barely tries to keep the identity of its villain a secret, counting instead on the audience being shocked — shocked, I tell you! — by the revelation of the villain-behind-the-villain. Admittedly, the reveal left a few preview patrons gasping as if they had seen Jesus rising from the concession popcorn machine, but this unmasking wouldn’t surprise the vast majority of the world’s population.

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