Here's What It Takes to Be a Badass Action-Movie President
For an actor, being an action-movie president is the ultimate challenge. Not only do you have to be presidential, but you never know when you might be called upon to fire a machine gun, outrun a fireball, or toss off pithy one-liners sans teleprompter. And that's what makes London Has Fallen, the sequel to 2013's Die Hard-in-the-White House thriller Olympus Has Fallen, such a flailing, idiotic misfire. It's an embarrassment to the fictional presidents of America's action-movie past.
Like the original, the movie follows Gerard Butler's Trumpian oaf of a Secret Service agent as he protects the blandest action-movie president in the history of cinema, played by a square-jawed, dead-eyed Aaron Eckhart. The character is the action-movie equivalent of a warmed-over stump speech. Everything from his name (Benjamin Asher) to his interests (running) to his one flaw (he never has time for his kid!) is dull and forgettable. He makes Mitt Romney look like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
But there's still hope for President Asher. Olympus Has Fallen was a hit, and London Has Fallen will probably be one, too, making this the Taken series for presidents. I can already see the posters for the future sequels -- Paris Has Fallen, Australia Has Fallen, Earth Has Fallen -- so, if Eckhart and the writers of these movies study the examples I've outlined below, they can turn President Asher into an ass-kicking, world-saving action-hero POTUS. I offer these suggestions below not to denigrate a fictional president, but to put him on the right path. Like George Washington, I do this for my country.
Independence Day (1996)
The president: Thomas J. Whitmore
The actor: Bill Pullman
The type: The young hotshot
The lesson: Give killer speeches, but also be a fighter pilot.
Easy enough, right? Wrong. Thomas J. Whitmore might be our best-action movie president, so he's the perfect model to study up on. He's a brilliant orator, crafting the most moving, inspirational presidential movie speech of all time, and he's a damn good pilot, strapping on his flight suit to help Randy Quaid stick it to those alien bastards in the sky. Plus, I mean, look at that well-coiffed hair. That's some presidential hair. Seriously, if you have hair like that, you probably don't need the fighter-pilot skills.
Air Force One (1997)
The president: James Marshall
The actor: Harrison Ford
The type: The cranky dad
The lesson: Get off his plane.
If you're an action-movie president, terrorists are probably going to take over your plane. There's nothing you can do about it. You probably have a mole in your Secret Service, perhaps one played by character actor Xander Berkeley, and that guy will let a bunch of Russian goons on your plane, and they will kidnap your family. Just accept it. What can you do? Be like James Marshall, and transform into President Rambo; and when the time comes, make sure to say, "Get off my plane." It's essential.
Escape from New York (1981)
The president: The president
The actor: Donald Pleasence
The type: The scheming dirtbag
The lesson: Shoot the Duke.
OK, so the president in Escape from New York is actually a jerk. John Carpenter's satiric action movie is anti-authoritarian down to its eye-patch-loving core, so of course the president isn't going to be some charming, kindhearted do-gooder. The guy is so conniving that he doesn't even get a name in the credits. But he does shoot the Duke of New York (Isaac Hayes) at the end of the movie, saving the ultimate badass Snake Plissken, so he's not worthless.
White House Down (2013)
The president: James William Sawyer
The actor: Jamie Foxx
The type: The cool customer
The lesson: Always have your Jordans handy.
The other Die Hard-in-the-White House movie from 2013 may not have been as financially successful as Olympus Has Fallen, but it had a better president and a playful sense of humor. Like our current commander-in-chief, Foxx's James Sawyer is a calm, collected nerd who reveals himself to be pretty badass when the going gets tough. How else can you explain this scene where Foxx kicks a terrorist in the face and yells, "Get your hands off my Jordans!"? Like Lil' Bow Wow in Like Mike, it's not the shoes that make the man; it's what's inside.
Big Game (2014)
The president: William Alan Moore
The actor: Samuel L. Jackson
The type: The Samuel L. Jackson type
The lesson: Befriend a cute kid.
This under-seen action-comedy throwback from Finnish director Jalmari Helander has a lot of things going for it: beautiful shots of Finland's wilderness, Jim Broadbent as an ex-CIA operative, and the president kicks a terrorist in the nuts at one point. But the big takeaway for any action-movie-president hopeful is the interplay between a cute kid (Onni Tommila) with a bow and arrow and Samuel L. Jackson. It's the action-movie equivalent of kissing babies on the campaign trail: if you're fighting terrorists in the woods, find an adorable partner.
My Fellow Americans (1996)
The president: Russell Kramer and Matt Douglas
The actor: Jack Lemmon and James Garner
The type: The kvetching grandpa
The lesson: Find a worthy partner.
Fine, I'm cheating here. My Fellow Americans is more of a comedy than an action movie, but these old geezers do have a buddy-cop energy going for them, and they run away from an explosion at one point. But watch this scene about coffee. That's the type of bickering energy that could make an action movie work -- or at least elevate the next [Blank] Has Fallen movie beyond the direct-to-DVD bin. Let's get Aaron Eckhart on the run with an older president. Is Bill Pullman available? America needs him.
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