Sensation can carry a movie, that gut-level adrenaline blast of loud, obvious, stupid aggression that's occasionally enough to see you through until the final credits. It can take many forms: Michael Myers chasing Jamie Lee Curtis through the dark house or French peasants shout-singing the revolution or Gerard Butler, threatening a terrorist, shouting "I'M GONNA STICK MY KNIFE THROUGH YOUR BRAIN!" as the White House explodes all around them. It's whatever pushes your thoughtless pleasure buttons and has no real relation intelligence, logic, subtlety, nuance or even a passing familiarity with how events would transpire in a real-life setting. I mean, sure, all those things are fine if you're some kind of fancy-wine-drinking professor. But the rest of the world wants tiny electrodes attached to the hungry part of their brain-meat with some concession candy on the side.
In other words, welcome to the Les Miserables of post-9/11-sploitation, a two-hour journey into a giddy fearscape where the United States is threatened with annihilation by North Korean terrorists, the president (Aaron Eckhart) is kidnapped along with his entire staff and one man (Gerard Butler) stands in the breach between American dominance and total destruction.
These terrorists are smart and wily enough to circumvent every known barrier and ruthless enough to shoot everyone they meet, point-blank execution style. They're aided by traitors from within who, when prompted for reasons why they sold their soul to the enemy, scream, and I quote: "GLOBALIZATION AND F@#%IN' WALL STREET!" Got it. Makes sense now.
You know how the rest of this sort of thing goes. It moves fast like a plane crashing into the Washington Monument (yep) and Butler goes for it with his best action-hero swagger, bludgeoning bad guys with a bust of Abraham Lincoln and gunning down the rest. And it's all the better to assist the film toward its goal of crushing everything in its sight, tank-style, while making pit stops in visually offensive territory, like when that same Washington Monument crumbles like a WTC tower. Look, it's been 12 years, right? It's okay to reference it now in the name of a kick-ass thrill ride, isn't it?
If you think so you'll get your money and time's worth out of it. You'll also get plenty of violence, as Butler meets brutality with bigger, badder, more brutal brutality. It's what the movie has for you instead of suspense and, like I wrote up top, that can be all you need sometimes.
For the rest of you, the people for whom this all sounds like agony, there's a silver lining. If nothing else it means, for the moment at least, that our long national Gerard Butler rom-com nightmare is over. He finally has his own Die Hard and that means a break from Hollywood's attempts to give him his own When Harry Met Sally. Please, ticket-buying people, make this movie a reasonably big box office hit so that we can have a nice long break from watching him try to fake romantic chemistry with Jennifer Aniston, Jessica Biel or Katherine Heigl. And that's the one thing that hurts more than getting your skull crushed by Abraham Lincoln.