'Angel Has Fallen'

Gerard Butler, left and Morgan Freeman star in "Angel Has Fallen," directed by Ric Roman Waugh.

Former stuntman-turned-director Ric Roman Waugh shows a deft hand at staging big action scenes in the explosive "Angel Has Fallen." Those have been the heartbeat of the franchise focused on the heroics of Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) in "Olympus Has Fallen" and "London Has Fallen."

The importance of the action is critical not only to make the film entertaining, but as a way of masking a script that is a clunky connection of plot gimmicks combined with a failed effort to make the family element more predominant. Most video games have more complicated stories than this screenplay by Robert Mark Kamen, Matt Cook and Waugh.

Everything is built around the painfully worn-out idea that the guy who has saved the world on more occasions than one would suddenly become a supervillain. That's what happens when there is an assassination attempt on U.S. President Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) and Banning becomes the only suspect. It would be nice if just once someone would say "Hey, this guy is a hero. We should at least consider other suspects."

Such thinking would get in the way of what becomes a series of events where logic is rejected and replaced by convenience. Banning escapes and goes on the run with every law enforcement agency trying to find him. But it is the group behind his framing that proves far more capable of a manhunt.

This leads to a series of big action moments, from a high-speed chase on dirt backroads to a gun battle with more explosions than a small war, where Banning manages to stay one step ahead. And just when it looks like the chase ends, the government agencies have a change of heart. It is the writing of convenience.

Woven into the action are a few looks at family, including Banning's wife (Piper Perabo) and child plus being reunited with his cantankerous father (Nick Nolte). There's not enough of Banning's home life to make the husband-wife situation have that much tension. It's also a waste to cast an actor like Perabo and give her little more to do than stand around and look nervous. At least she gets more attention than Jada Pinkett Smith, whose character is treated like the writers ran out of ideas and unceremoniously wrote the role out.

The family reunion ends up providing some of the film's better moments, as Nolte embraces the crusty character with great energy. He cranks up the crackpot part of the role while keeping his performance on the right level to make a reconciliation come across as plausible.

Nolte's performance is more manic, but in many ways it's similar to Freeman's work as the president. The father-son bond that the president and Banning have had in all three movies works because Freeman brings so much heart to his performance.

"Angel Has Fallen" is heavenly when it comes to the big action moments, but ends up a devil of a bad time when it comes to the weak story.