Director: Roland Emmerich
Writer: James Vanderbilt
Stars: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Woods
Release date: June 28th, 2013
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Running time: 131 minutes
Best part: Tatum and Foxx’ chemistry.
Worst part: The dodgy CGI.
Hollywood has become an industry that will recycle any concept for a quick profit. I know I’m repeating myself when I state this claim, but, for some reason, studios have no problem blatantly copying one another. Famous Hollywood double-ups such as Deep Impact/Armageddon, Dante’s Peak/Volcano and Mirror Mirror/Snow White and the Huntsman are frequently mentioned whenever someone goes on a tirade against big-budget movies. This year, Olympus has Fallen and White House Down have formed the paranoia inducing and jingoistic double-up to end them all.
These blockbusters have stretched the bonds of societal comfort and plausibility by destroying one of the world’s most important landmarks. White House Down may cause fatigue, primarily because it was released after Olympus has Fallen, but it’s a popcorn flick with brawn, laughs, and gusto. This extravaganza starts out with a comparison between two commendable and ambitious characters. Washington D.C. Capitol officer and single father John Cale (Channing Tatum) achingly wants to impress his precocious, politically motivated, tech-savvy daughter Emily (Joey King). Taking her on a White House tour, Cale hopes his corresponding job interview with the Secret Service will go as smoothly. Meanwhile, US President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) is pushing world leaders to sign a peace treaty which could pull all troops out of the Middle East. This controversial plan runs into resistance from Speaker of the House Eli Raphelson (Richard Jenkins), the military, and the media. While these events take place, suspicious figures, led by Stenz (Jason Clarke), waltz around the White House and Capitol Building dressed as janitors. These figures, of course, turn out to be psychopathic mercenaries with a reckless distain for Sawyer’s time in office.
You can pretty much guess what happens next. In fact, this entire movie is based around plot-points, character arcs, and clichés from other, more inventive, action-dramas. Its ‘Die Hard in the White House’ premise has been trodden on tirelessly throughout modern action movie history. Thankfully, this mash up of Air Force One, The Rock, The Siege, and Taken is nowhere near as bad as it sounds. Despite the tired narrative, White House Down‘s many zippy and unique aspects make for an enjoyable explosion fest. Director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, 2012), gladly, avoids the tropes and ticks that make several of his previous efforts nigh unwatchable (God knows how both he and Michel Bay made tolerable movies within the same year!). Known for blowing up monuments and wiping out large populations on screen, Emmerich’s work is normally drowned in cartoonish humour and nonsensical plot strands. Here, despite the film’s exhaustive run-time and cheesiness, he applies a more subtle yet enrapturing approach to silly material. It was baffling to see the first 30 minutes of an Emmerich film being based around witty banter and noticeable character development. I was enjoying each interaction and plot strand before the inevitable shoot outs and explosions kicked in. To begin the necessary comparisons with Olympus has Fallen, I’ll state that the Gerard Butler-led action flick works better as a whole. However, White House Down does contain many awe inspiring and applaudable moments. Thanks to the brisk pace and baffling twists, this slightly satirical and excessive action flick is one of 2013’s biggest surprises (ironic, given its disappointing box office performance).
Emmerich, however, doesn’t pull back from making preposterously stupid links between the plot and the heavy-handed messages. It’s right wing, fascist agenda is glaringly obvious and beyond inappropriate. Despite the shout outs to republican craziness, NRA, military injustice, Government conspiracies and preachy journalists, Emmerich can’t pull anything together to say something meaningful. Thankfully, the terrorists aren’t defined by race or ‘religious’ creeds. I know I’m asking too much of an action-disaster flick, but Emmerich should’ve stuck to the courage of his convictions. Where he does excel, however, is in the explosive action set pieces. From destroying New York with a mutant lizard (Godzilla) to obliterating Earth with freak winds and intelligent tornados (The Day After Tomorrow), Emmerich continually puts the pedal to the metal. His video game-esque apocalyptic-disaster movies push the boundaries of believability and filmmaking technology. Here, we go room by room as the world’s safest residence is torn apart. He finds inventive and baffling ways to tare chunks out of famous buildings and American ideals. Though lacking the grit and intensity of Olympus has Fallen’s invasion sequence, the White House takeover here is gleefully swift. The camera moves from one kill to the next as the punchy and kinetic action set pieces thrill and spill. Emmerich delivers one stupefying moment after another. I threw my hands up when Cale and Sawyer pulled donuts on the White House lawn with the President’s suped-up limo (aptly titled ‘Ground Force One’).
“Can you not hit me in the head with rocket launcher when I’m trying to drive?” (John Cale (Channing Tatum), White House Down).
James Vanderbilt(Zodiac)’s screenplay elevates a movie packed with tension inducing set pieces and brutal murders. The hilarious dialogue and zany winks and nudges come thick and fast. A White House tour turns into a pacy back-and-fourth between several wacky individuals. These moments, gladly, boost the archetypal characters. Cale, fit with a white singlet and point to prove, is a pretty yet emotionally damaged John McClane clone. Despite the laughably predictable plot and character turns, Cale comes off as a sympathetic and courageous hero. Butler may be a more charismatic presence, but Tatum still establishes himself as a charming and beguiling action star. His physicality and snappy delivery push him through each set piece and conquering speech. His rapport with Foxx highlights the sheer talent flowing between these popular performers. Foxx, though miscast, delivers an enjoyable and intriguing turn. Whilst bringing out his inner Barack Obama, Foxx urbanises the all important Leader-of-the-Free-World role. With his can-do attitude and Air Jordans in tow, Sawyer is a Political character by way of youth marketing and focus groups. Unfortunately, the supporting cast members, though talented, are stuck in bland, two dimensional roles. Gyllenhaal, though effective in her early scenes with Tatum, is left to simply yell orders over the phone and look mildly concerned. Jenkins can only draw a mild shade of life from his tiresome role. Meanwhile, Clarke, James Woods, and Jimmi Simpson go overboard as the sociopathic and vengeful villains.
With its talented cast and punchy action set pieces, White House Down is a surprisingly engaging action flick. Emmerich, thankfully, has crated a ludicrous, explosive, and funny extravaganza. I’m now trying to figure out what the next blockbuster double-up will be. ‘Taken on a cargo ship’, anyone?