There is a certain mindless pleasure in the “Fallen” movies. Watching Gerard Butler muscle his way through increasingly preposterous obstacles as a Secret Service agent can be amusing and oddly transfixing at the same time. It’s mass entertainment that makes a courtesy stop in theaters before ascending to its true calling: Endless cable reruns.
But whatever this franchise got away with in “Olympus Has Fallen” and then, miraculously, in the totally unnecessary and very unintentionally silly sequel “London Has Fallen,” it’s clear that the well has run dry on this idea and character. Butler and the filmmakers sleepwalk their way through “Angel Has Fallen ,” the third, and hopefully last, visit with agent Mike Banning. This time, the powers that be have decided to make Banning a fugitive. He’s on the run after being falsely accused of orchestrating an assassination attempt on U.S. President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) that kills 18 Secret Service Agents and leaves the commander in chief in a coma.
There is a dizzying amount of plot thrown at “Angel Has Fallen.” Banning has a toddler daughter with wife Leah (Piper Perabo, subbing in for Radha Mitchell in the thankless “worried wife” role) and he’s considering scaling back from dangerous field work for the sake of his family and his own health after too many concussions on the job. The Oval Office is having issues with someone leaking false information to the press, not to mention the looming threat of Russia who we’re told meddled in a recent election in the “Fallen” world. And then there’s the private contractors, like Banning’s old military friend Wade Jennings (Danny Huston), who are longing for the good old days of lucrative wars and government contracts. Oh and Nick Nolte, playing Banning’s estranged father Clay, is living off the grid in the woods and having some regrets about leaving his wife and young child some years ago.
These threads are all thrown together in this kitchen sink of a movie that is unforgivably dull for having so much going on at all times — and I haven’t even had the opportunity or reason to mention that this film also has Tim Blake Nelson playing the vice president and Jada Pinkett Smith as the FBI agent who is leading the hunt for Banning. It’s too much and too little at the same time and neither absurd nor exciting enough to maintain an audience’s interest for two hours.
Nolte is the only real saving grace as the wild-eyed and paranoid Vietnam veteran living in his little bunker in the West Virginia woods. He’s the only one having fun with this material, but even so gets unceremoniously demoted for the final set-piece (although he does pop up again in a bizarre and kind of funny post-credits scene that has more spirit in two minutes than the entirety of “Angel Has Fallen”). Everyone else is either too serious or too bored or some joy-killing combination of the two.
Directing this time is Ric Roman Waugh, a stuntman and actor turned director whose most high-profile outing in that capacity was the 2013 Dwayne Johnson vehicle “Snitch.” He also shares script credit with Matt Cook (“Patriots Day”) and veteran Robert Mark Kamen (“Taps,” ”The Karate Kid”). But this movie has none of the personality that you would expect from those filmmakers. The action itself feels oddly low budget and claustrophobic. Quick shots of a semi truck’s headlights and a gloved finger pulling a trigger are ineffectively used to create suspense too many times. And for all its hot topics, “Angel Has Fallen” doesn’t have much to say about military veterans, Russian interference or the lifetime effects of brain trauma. It just plops those buzz word concepts into the movie and moves on to the next shootout.
It might still be passable for cable, but this series has sadly fallen into unwatchable territory.
“Angel Has Fallen,” a Lionsgate release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “violence and language throughout.” Running time: 120 minutes. One star out of four.
MPAA Definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires an accompanying parent or adult guardian.
Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr