White House Down ReviewJuly 4, 2013
With a terrible script, mostly disappointing performances and misguided direction, White House Down is an absolute failure of an action film.
Every so often, Hollywood studios go into direct competition with each other by releasing two different versions of essentially the same exact story. This year, we’re getting two takes on the “Die Hard in the White House” concept, one (Olympus Has Fallen) being R-rated and the other (White House Down) PG-13. Now that Olympus Has Fallen has already entertained audiences worldwide and had a successful run at the box office, does Roland Emmerich’s White House Down have a chance?
John Cale (Channing Tatum) is a U.S. Capitol Police officer who is assigned to escort Speaker of the House Eli Raphelson (Richard Jenkins) in his daily commute. He dreams of becoming a Secret Service agent, and on one particular day he is interviewed by a former acquaintance from college named Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal), while his estranged, politically-active daughter Emily (Joey King) tags along. Cale fails to secure the position, but he keeps this from his daughter, and they join a tour of the White House. Soon enough, a bomb is detonated in the middle of the U.S. Capitol, and a group of mercenaries led by Emil Stenz (Jason Clarke) begin to kill off members of the Secret Service while securing the White House. After realizing that he is alone, John Cale runs into President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx), and then the two begin a fight to end the terror that has been unleashed on the United States.
If that description alone does not give you the impression that this is a blatant rip-off of Die Hard, then I don’t know what will. Don’t get me wrong, I can forgive Hollywood for taking cues from that classic as long as the end result is memorable – Air Force One and The Rock are great examples – but White House Down is simply an offense to its audience, and not just because it robs from countless other 90s action films. I could never stop talking about the problems with this debacle, but suffice to say it is idiotic, melodramatic, predictable, bloated, silly, overly political – it obviously panders to the liberal crowd without seeing any shades of grey in any side of the political spectrum – and altogether a mess. Some have said that White House Down is simple, dumb fun, and I can completely understood those viewpoints; even so, for me this was hard to find enjoyment out of for its sheer stupidity, and the tonal inconsistency proved to be detrimental here. With weak humor, awfully-staged dramatic scenes and poor excuse for character development, I found this to be a pathetic exercise on top of its already-established issues.
What few good things I can say about White House Down mainly deal with the cast, Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx in particular. Despite the absolute stupidity of the material at hand, they clearly appeared to be having fun with one another on screen. Jamie Foxx does fine enough work in the role that obviously parallels President Obama, and even if Channing Tatum’s attire is patterned almost identically to Bruce Willis from the original Die Hard, he is a serviceable action hero. Some of the other performers are decent enough here, such as Maggie Gyllenhaal and Richard Jenkins, but otherwise the cast of White House Down disappoints. Jason Clarke is shamefully underused here as the generic terrorist leader – which is disheartening after we all saw his shocking, raw intensity in Zero Dark Thirty – and James Woods also feels out of place in his twisted role. Of all the offenders in White House Down, though, Joey King is the worst of the bunch, who we first briefly saw as young Talia al Ghul in The Dark Knight Rises. Suffice to say that she is simply annoying to watch as Emily Cale, while she becomes nigh unbearable when she is asked to be more… emotional. If you could call what she puts on the screen emotion, anyway.
There was a time when Roland Emmerich actually had a sense of how to direct a big movie – to this day, Independence Day is one of my favorite action films. In a sense his style still works for high budget cinema, for I even enjoyed the extreme flair of 2012, but White House Down is a sign that he has lost his touch. None of the action felt tense to me, especially since the seemingly capable terrorists are such terrible shots. I could generally expect that Channing Tatum’s character would come out of an action scene unscathed, and that’s actually not far from the truth. Other than that, the action is often absurd in concept and execution, and it doesn’t help that the visual effects are far less believable than films from the early 1990s. White House Down is bad enough to begin with, but in some moments it looks absolutely cheap and pathetic.
Even with all I have said about White House Down, I can still say that it will be a fun movie for others, more in the vein of a guilty pleasure. If you are fine with paying $10 for a silly action film that verges towards the essence of a bad Saturday morning cartoon, then this will do the job. Nonetheless, I personally think that this is one of the worst action films I have ever seen. With a terrible script, mostly disappointing performances and misguided direction, White House Down is an absolute failure of an action film, and an embarrassment to the films it attempts to rip-off. Simply launching a nuke at the White House would have made for a more interesting film than this 2+ hours of Hollywoodized nonsense.