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White House Down

2013 | 131 min | PG-13 | 2.39:1

White House Down


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Theatrical release date

 28 June, 2013
 06 September, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

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Screenshots from White House Down Blu-ray

White House Down Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, June 27, 2013

We already suffered through one of these “‘Die Hard’ in The White House” movies with last March’s “Olympus Has Fallen,” a mean-spirited, moronic actioner that set the bar on the floor for the newly christened subgenre. “White House Down” almost matches the competition in terms of unpleasantness and abysmal filmmaking, once again treating the premise as an open invitation to make the audience feel icky for watching something that should be high-flying, guns-blazing carnival ride. A monster budget helps the new picture in the long run, but boiled down to the essentials of competent screenwriting, thoughtful direction, and thespian creativity, and “White House Down” mirrors “Olympus Has Fallen” to a disturbing degree.

John Cale (Channing Tatum) is a former soldier trying to find his way back into promising work, hoping to secure a Secret Service position protecting President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx), a struggling leader looking to broker peace in the Middle East. Bringing Emily (Joey King), his political fanatic of a daughter, to his interview at The White House, John is quickly shut down by Secret Service supervisor Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal), leaving the dejected man to walk off his sorrows with a tour of the buildings. During the day, Martin Walker (James Woods), Head of Presidential Detail, commences an elaborate plan to destroy The White House and make President Sawyer pay for the death of his only son in combat, calling in a group of mercenaries, led by Emil Stenz (Jason Clarke), and computer hacker Tyler (an insufferable Jimmi Simpson), to shut down defenses and tap into the nation’s nuclear arsenal. Separated from Emily during the melee, John is left alone to hash out a plan of rescue, soon teaming up with President Sawyer to navigate the bowels of The White House and disrupt Walker’s plan of political extermination.

“White House Down” marks the return of director Roland Emmerich to blockbuster filmmaking, last seen inducing yawns with his relatively small-scale Shakespeare mystery, “Anonymous.” Looking to restore a little luster to his brand name, Emmerich finds an ideal amount of mayhem to mastermind in James Vanderbilt’s screenplay, which imagines a domestic terrorist attack on The White House (“Olympus” served up North Koreans), complete with snarling, sleeveless mercenaries, a curious lack of security around the presidential palace, and an opportunity to brandish weaponry of all kinds. It’s big and dumb and monumentally violent, only absent bloodshed to preserve its hard PG-13 rating. However, even by those standards, “White House Down” is missing a key component: fun.

Emmerich used to make pleasurable movies (“Stargate,” “Independence Day”), but he lost his touch a long time ago, content to fashion blunt event films in the least appealing manner possible, while imagination has no place in something like “White House Down.” It’s a slab of raw meat for mass consumption, and while there’s nothing wrong with escapism, it doesn’t have to be lobotomized to work. Vanderbilt’s script is teeming with idiotic dialogue exchanges and acts of comeuppance, while his vision for intimidating antagonists is seriously lacking, offering standard-issue grumps from Villains “R” Us, adorned with bad tattoos and even worse facial hair, while characterizations are as formulaic and shrill as can be. Casting is also an irritant, finding Woods an uninspired choice for a main antagonist. While his advanced age plays an important part in the story, Woods doesn’t bring anything new to the role, reheating his previous takes on all-out evil, only here the rage is loosely motivated by war machine daydreams that hint at a more geopolitical bend to the script Emmerich wouldn’t dare take seriously.

There’s also a question of good taste. “Olympus Has Fallen” didn’t have any, and “White House Down” is nearly depleted of it as well. Bodies are blasted, maimed, and roasted, but the majority of tension is triggered by grown men threatening Emily with guns, hoping to silence the spunky kid reporter and her ability to post incriminating videos to YouTube and lure John out into the open. The extremity of such an act and its repetition in the film is completely unnecessary. There’s certainly enough inspiration out there to successfully encourage the hero to slap around the invading brutes. Sticking a pistol in a child’s face, promising to put holes in the crying kid makes “White House Down” feel downright ugly.

Most of the feature belongs to Tatum and Foxx, who put on their best action-comedy personas to make “White House Down” palatable. Tatum is game to go where Emmerich needs him (weighed down by dreary divorced dad formula, meant to humanize John), yet the action choreography is stiff, looking as though the performers are counting off their moves instead of believably smashing each other around. Foxx has the more regal role, doing his best Obama impression while inserting his own flair, keeping President Sawyer a confident Lincoln-loving man tearing around The White House in fresh Jordans, working rocket launchers. There’s not much chemistry between the pair, but they survive, better in action figure mode than processing Vanderbilt’s flaccid passes at comedy and sincerity.

There’s a B-story to “White House Down” concerning the juggled state of the Presidency, with the Vice President (Michael Murphy) circling up high in Air Force One, while the Speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins) takes refuge in a bunker with Carol, watching the nightmare unfold. Instead of remaining decorative, the subplot actually factors into the overall terrorism scenario, adding ten long minutes to the end of an already endless picture to work out a few superfluous turns of plot.

There’s plenty of havoc to go around in the feature, including a bullet-pocked limo chase on the front lawn of The White House, while John is tasked with taking out goons with surface-to-air missiles positioned atop the building (our hero warns the military to stay away from an air rescue, but the men in charge discount his expert eyewitness testimony in one of the film’s numerous gaps in logic). Bombs are detonated, bodies pile up, and Vanderbilt clings to his cartoonish payoffs to the bitter end. “White House Down” is certainly junk food, but these empty calories taste awful, making it the second worst White House takedown picture of 2013. Pray there’s not a third.

Starring: Channing Tatum, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Richard Jenkins, Jamie Foxx, James Woods, Rachelle Lefevre
Director: Roland Emmerich

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White House Down 425 Jul 16, 2013

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