A group of terrorists breach the White House and take control of the mansion. The President is trapped inside. The outside world is powerless to do anything. Only one man has the ability to thwart the terrorists and their scheme to jumpstart World War III. Wait…didn’t I already review this movie? And didn’t it suck the first time around?
Oh, yes I did. I saw this movie when it was called Olympus Has Fallen, and it fucking sucked. White House Down represents Roland Emmrich’s entry into what’s soon to become a subgenre if Hollywood’s obsession with cloning action flicks continues. This time around Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx headline with Tatum playing the determined hero and Foxx playing the beleaguered President. With a supporting cast that includes Maggie Gyllenhaal, Richard Jenkins, James Woods, and Jason Clarke, White House Down is considerably better than Olympus Has Fallen. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much to make a better movie than Olympus Has Fallen, and this movie is still pretty rancid in its own right.
Channing Tatum plays Cale, a Capitol security guard who yearns to join the Secret Service. However, because he’s a loose cannon and a stone cold badass who kills terrorists, questions authority, and refuses to button the top button of his shirt even when he’s wearing a tie, the agency rejects his application. They award him and his daughter (Joey King) a free tour of the White House as a consolation prize.
But all is not well in the nation’s capitol. President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx standing in for President Obama) intends to sign a treaty with Iran that would entail the United States withdrawing all forces from the Middle East. This upsets a group of right-wing, Tea Party-esque terrorist types who promptly set out to seize the White House and kill the President. Will they succeed? Not if our John McClane clone has any say in the matter.
White House Down works when it’s not taking itself too seriously. The premise—a group of domestic terrorists, with the inside aid of corrupt government officials, successfully seizing the White House—is much more plausible than what we saw in Olympus Has Fallen. And despite a PG-13 rating, Roland Emmerich manages the action fairly well. For all the man’s faults as a director, he has a pretty good eye for carnage. The more stripped-down, personal action sequences mark a departure from the director’s affinity for destroying the world; White House Down may as well be low budget arthouse fare compared to Emmerich’s latest batch of blockbusters.
Still, Emmerich and screenwriter James Vanderbilt don’t know how to tell a balanced story. The flick runs efficiently when Tatum is gunning down terrorists and partnering up with a sassy, wise-cracking President. It’s stupid, but it’s fun. Unfortunately, the flick runs on too long, and Emmerich decides to shoehorn a political message into the movie.
The terrorists are composed of nothing but gun-toting middle aged white men. Some of them are ex-military, some of them are racists, and some of them are just paranoid anti-government types. All of them are analogues for the various factions of the Tea Party. And, of course, they’re assisted by elements within the government. Could the aloof, Republican Speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins) possibly have anything to do with attempted coup? Don’t answer; that’s a rhetorical question.
Now I have no love for the Republican party or American conservatives in general, but if a movie is going to contain a political message, then it has to earn the right to assert it. Emmerich never bothers. He spends the first hour wanking off with PG-13 action sequences and silly banter between a generic action hero and an I’m-too-old-for-this-shit American President, and then he turns around in the movie’s final hour to broadcast his political bias to the audience. A sequence late in the picture where one of the right-wing villains terrorizes a crying, twelve year old girl by placing a pistol against her head goes way too far. The fact that Emmerich lazily inserts a needlessly dark political message into a mindless summer action flick comes across as insulting.
Once again Emmerich proves that he can’t tell a story and that he’s a hack director. Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx do their best to carry the movie, but the flick is too flawed. But this movie is still better than Olympus Has Fallen and I suppose that’s something.