White House Down Directed by: Roland Emmerich Cast: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Woods, Jason Clarke, Joey King Running Time: 2 hrs 17 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: June 28, 2013
PLOT: A rejected Secret Service applicant (Tatum) touring the White House with his daughter (King) must protect the president (Foxx) from a group of ex-soldiers who have taken over 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
WHO'S IT FOR? If you're looking for another movie to leave you gung-ho about defending our nation, White House Down will not be that movie for numerous reasons. While dumb action movies can be an easy crowd-pleaser, this one differs from others for its lack of patriotism in spite of its concept.
EXPECTATIONS: Director Roland Emmerich might be a cold dude (did you see how carelessly he destroyed planet Earth in 2012?), but he's always promising for ridiculous spectacle. Maybe the star power of Channing Tatum, who could use a great action hero to define himself with, will be able to provide a balanced experience?
Channing Tatum as John Cale: The rising star isn't given his chance to dominate with White House Down, a film that doesn't give him enough time to fully develop a personality, as it gets sucked away by the third act. Though his character is firmly defined in the beginning, even the extreme charisma of Tatum can't make Cale (oddly sharing the name of a member of The Velvet Underground) more than a prominent tool to this movie's shenanigans. Even if Tatum took on this role to play with the cheesiness of the action hero, he doesn't provide anything that is much different from the peers he is still trying to equal himself with. Score: 5
Jamie Foxx as President James Sawyer: As President of the United States, Foxx seems to be playing up the dreams we have about how cool our current president is; there's no doubt that Emmerich cast Foxx in this role in hopes of achieving direct Obama comparisons. Foxx's president does have good chemistry, and is worth a laugh, maybe two, of comic relief. However, this character is also stretched to unfortunate bounds, in this case used as a parody of certain leadership mentalities. President Sawyer's affinity for Abraham Lincoln is made silly and boyish, and a sequence in which this movie President strives for complete peace in the Middle East is handled like the scene desires laughter more than anything else. On top of this, there's a moment in which this President puts an aggressive interpretation of the phrase, "The pen is mightier than the sword." Yikes. Score: 4
Rest of Cast: Emmerich's mishandling of a talented cast certainly continues into his supporting crowd. Maggie Gyllenhaal in particular continues to pick roles that don't respect her ability to bring out a character from within; instead she is settled with saying things that screenwriter James Vanderbilt's script couldn't put into words itself. White House Down also has goofy casting, including the choice to makes James Woods a key menacing figure in the movie, despite his non-threatening appearance that never goes beyond the level of grouchy. The film's most awkward casting choice can be found in Jason Clarke, who plays a goofy version of a tragic ex-American soldier, only months after appearing as the face of post-9/11 vengeance in Zero Dark Thirty. Score: 4
TALKING: While forcing capable actors to own their tropes in the script, White House Down is also heavy with obvious dialogue and shameless exposition (especially during scenes that present The Interview and The Tour). Perhaps this makes for permissible lightness in the beginning, but such lack of tact loses its humor when it turns out to indicate this script's honest mental capacity. Score: 3
SIGHTS: In terms of disaster, director Emmerich does provide vivid visions of certain nightmares concerning American landmarks. Where he doesn't prevail is his action, the combat scenes of White House Down feeling film-by-numbers instead of inspired to surprise audiences. Making Tatum turn White House furniture into his jungle gym in slow motion gets old fairly quickly. Score: 7
SOUNDS: Owning up to its Die Hard xeroxing, White House Down prominently features the usage of Beethoven (however, Symphony No. 9 from Die Hard is not played). Even more nutty is a song that plays during the end credits. After "Street Fighting Man" by The Rolling Stones concludes, a cheesy ballad (which Emily had been listening to on her headphones earlier) plays over the end credits, and stands as the movie's final statement about the type of seriousness it is striving for. Score: 4
BEST SCENE: White House Down achieves a rare harmony with its sarcastic action and goal of providing spectacle with a chase that happens on the front lawn. It's a nutty action scene, with a proper balance of humor, creativity, and firepower. It even ends with the type of destruction one doesn't often see in presidential kidnapping movies.
ENDING: Completing this movie's sarcastic take on American history, White House Down ends with President Sawyer taking little Emily on a helicopter ride.
QUESTIONS: Why did Roland Emmerich take on this project? And how much better would it be if it were made by someone who doesn't take on disaster films just so he can troll his audiences?
REWATCHABILITY: On DVD and alone, this movie might have some value in its second viewing. At the very least, it will feel more like a bad action movie than a desperate comedy.
The action genre's lifelong battle of what constitutes for "good bad fun" continues to wage on, but here is one film that doesn't successfully register its chaos with lack-of-seriousness, such as with recent action movies G.I. Joe: Retaliation and A Good Day to Die Hard.
Spotty on providing good action and full of bad attitudes, White House Down is too ugly a film to be good bad fun, even with the rapid fire amount of self-deprecating jokes that it unleashes on its audience. While it may begin like regular genre fare, soon Emmerich's film initiates a rampage through a list of American topics that don't fit in his ironic version of an all-American tale of heroism. In a film that feels like a parody of so many genre and political elements, his current issues such as ex-American soldiers and their grieving parents register as poor taste, especially in a movie that talks down to audiences in terms of obvious storytelling.
As with his other films, Emmerich does not use this arc of overcoming a large tragedy as an opportunity to present some heroic greater good, or to make a film that respects the intelligence of his audience. Instead, he uses this super-patriotic concept to fire off terrible shock comedian jokes, wrapped up in a spirit that is entirely sarcastic. While watching Tatum run around the White House can make for some good bad fun, this is ultimately the unnecessary parody of patriotism that we don't need.
FINAL SCORE: 5/10