Review: White House Down – Roland Emmerich’s latest disaster
If you missed “Olympus Has Fallen” on the big screen last March, no worries, it’s now back in theaters! No, wait – scratch that – White House Down, which is nearly the exact same film, is now filling the “White House attacked by mercenaries then saved by a rogue agent” time slot. This time the scenario is helmed by German director and disaster film raconteur, Roland Emmerich; the man who had so much fun blowing up the Presidential quarters in 1996’s Independence Day, that he’s back to do it again in his latest film catastrophe.
Since 1998’s Godzilla remake, Emmerich has created some really bad movies about really bad times, including The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, but they have always had a goofy naïve charm to them that make them fun to watch regardless of how terrible they are (maybe I’m being too charitable.) White House Down certainly falls into this category, but because you can’t help but compare it to the recent film, Olympus Has Fallen, a movie that is not great but is infinitely better than Emmerich’s version of it, it’s not as easy to be forgiving.
Both White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen are basically rip-offs of the much better Die Hard film franchise (I think Channing Tatum is even wearing Bruce Willis’ shirt), so if you’ve ever seen one of those movies then you pretty much already know the premise. A low level agent (or cop) with a tough guy name, John Cale (Tatum), finds himself in a dangerous situation (the White House and U.S. Capitol are being attacked by internal terrorists) where he faces impossible odds in order to save the hostages (in this case also the US President and the world in general.)
In White House Down the bad guys are Martin Walker (James Woods), the head of the President’s Secret Service detail, and Emil Stenz (Jason Clarke from Zero Dark Thirty), an ex-special forces soldier now leading a homegrown terrorist group. All of the villains have some sort of beef or another with President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx). Fortunately, Cale’s daughter and sidekick, Emily (Joey King), is one of the hostages and she helps out her Dad by blogging about the situation from inside the White House.
Emmerich uses Foxx as a cartoon version of Obama to the extent that it is almost offensive, with one of the biggest gags in the movie revolving around his penchant for his “Jordan” tennis shoes. It made me wonder if Glenn Beck wasn’t involved with this screenplay somehow, but alas it was penned by James Vanderbilt who has an otherwise pretty decent resume, including The Amazing Spider-Man and Zodiac.
The acting talent in this film is the best thing it has going for it and the cast does a very good job with the very weak material that they’re provided. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a Secret Service big-wig and childhood friend of Cale’s, Lance Reddick play a General who is trying to contain the chaos, and the always awesome Richard Jenkins plays the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
With White House Down, not only was Emmerich not finished with destroying the White House (see Independence Day), he’s still obsessed with that unstoppable limousine from the 2012 movie as well. There is an extended sequence in this film that has Cale and the President driving the limo in circles around a fountain on the White House lawn while it is being bombarded with bullets and rockets. The crowd in the screening I attended was hysterically laughing at this scene, but I don’t think it was meant to be that funny.
In a nutshell, unintentional laughs are the biggest problem with White House Down. It’s the most absurd and childish movie I’ve seen in a long time and one of the worst films so far this year. It’s a shame really, because there is some very good talent involved in this project, but Emmerich squanders it on ridiculousness that will have you scratching your head in incredulity clear through to the final action sequence. Grade: 3/10
Photos © 2013 Columbia Pictures