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'Angel Has Fallen': A B Movie With Grownup Heart

Gerard Butler and President Morgan Freeman return to a predictable yet satisfying predicament

Rating: R

Run time: 2 hours 1 minute

Stars: Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Danny Huston, Nick Nolte, Jada Pinkett Smith

Director: Ric Roman Waugh

Angel Has Fallen is what used to be called a B movie, but it delivers the goods briskly and has some resonance for grownup viewers, despite an over-the-top plot with few surprises and a director who started as a stuntman — this is the film Brad Pitt's Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood character might have made if he got an auteur break. As in the previous two films in the series, Olympus Has Fallen and London Has Fallen, Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler, who turns 50 in November) guards the president (Morgan Freeman, 82, who seems amused to be playing a president yet again) against assassins, who stage a spectacular attack by a flock of killer drones with face-recognition software.

Eighteen Secret Service agents die, but (no spoiler) Banning saves the president, who unfortunately is in a coma and can't tell anyone who saved him. So the vice president (Tim Blake Nelson, 55) and the FBI agent on the case (Jada Pinkett Smith) find it suspicious that the drones recognized and spared Banning's face.

And we find it suspicious that Danny Huston, 57, plays Banning's best old war buddy Jennings. Huston is more typecast as a bad guy than Freeman is as a president, and his sinister circumflex eyebrows echo his father John Huston as the ultimate baddie in Chinatown.

But it's easy to relate when Jennings and Banning talk about feeling their age and resisting the pressure to retire, or to take a desk job that amounts to the same thing. “We are lions!” Jennings says.

"If I had my way, I would keep hard-charging till the day I die,” replies Banning. Meanwhile, he's tormented by aches, pains, 15 pounds of belly fat that won't go away, concussions, migraines, and a painkiller dependency he won't confess to his wife (Piper Perabo) or the president, and his face looks like a steak somebody beat with a meat tenderizer.

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He nonetheless rises to the occasion, ingeniously and athletically eluding the FBI manhunt and best pal Jennings’ scheme to frame and kill him and the president. (Again, this is no spoiler: The Jennings betrayal comes early; another baddie serves as the third-act reveal.) The action intensifies when Banning flees to Kentucky to hide out with his Vietnam vet dad (Nick Nolte, 78), a paranoid survivalist like a less psychotic Unabomber who's booby-trapped his rural redoubt (much like the booby-trapped woods in Nolte's first great movie, 1978's Who'll Stop the Rain). Nolte's grizzled, long-AWOL dad has a merry, irascible determination, and the movie comes alive when he tussles emotionally with his son Banning and fireworks fill the air with stuntmen.

Beneath the B-movie mechanics and genially over-the-top dialogue, there are grownup hearts beating in Angel Has Fallen. Butler and Nolte make you buy their mutually exasperated reconciliation. Compared to the generic characters of Nelson and Smith, they're deep, and the talented Huston really sells his buddy scenes with Banning and his ruthlessly scheming betrayal scenes, too.

Though it has a few ominous topical themes thrown in (menacing tech, Russian plots to subvert America, scheming war profiteers, citizen militia bounty hunters), Angel Has Fallen doesn't really have a serious thought in its head. But it's fun, and whatever you do, don't miss the Nolte-Butler scene midway through the credits at the end. It's a comic keeper.

AARP critic Tim Appelo was Amazon’s entertainment editor and a critic for The Nation, Hollywood Reporter, EW, People, MTV, LA Weekly, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times.

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