By: Garrett Collins
Out of all the slick action genre film directors out there, I have the highest amount of respect for Roland Emmerich. As the guy who has made huge disaster films like Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, Emmerich has walked the line between epic and moepic better than anyone. Also, unlike fellow contemporary Michael Bay, Emmerich has always resisted the urge to include hand-held shaky cams and juvenile potty humor. All of his films are nicely edited, with each piece of action included in the entire frame. And most importantly, Emmerich’s films prove that sometimes, it’s okay to grab a bag of popcorn and, to use an admittedly highly overused statement, turn the brain off for two hours plus. White House Down continues this tradition. Almost matching Die Hard beat for beat (down to the elevator shafts and guys in air vents), Emmerich puts his two leads in charge to carry the little bits of sympathetic exposition, as well as some well-timed laughs (‘Get your hands off my Jordans!’) I found myself enjoying White House Down to an extent. Moving at a rapid pace throughout its entire 131 minute running time, the lines of implausibility are unmistakably and entertainingly blurred. After all, you cannot deny the talent it took for Emmerich to include a car chase in a film that does not leave the White House once the action starts. The little bit of a story Down has does not take long to tell. So this might be the lowest worded summary I have ever given. Divorced Capitol policeman and father Cale (Tatum) wants to work for the Secret Service to impress his political minded young daughter (King.) While on a job interview to do that exact thing, terrorists and computer hackers, you guess it, take over the White House out of frustration over the fact that President Sawyer (Foxx) prematurely pulled American troops out of the Middle East. Oh, and did I mention that Cale’s daughter is taken hostage? There are plenty of geo political plot twists involving political corruption unraveled throughout the course of the film. But Emmerich wisely does not hold a magnifying glass to these bits for too long. Screenwriter James Vanderbilt has proven to be able to handle both smart thrillers (Zodiac) and dumb action (The Amazing Spiderman.) I don’t think I need to say which category White House Down falls under. But Emmerich orchestrates the gun play and fist fights with such precision that the implausibility of Vanderbilt’s script never really becomes an issue. As a guy who entered Hollywood and was met with scorn by almost all that were not female, it would seem that Tatum has slowly started winning people over with the choices he has made as of late. If anything, Down shows him as an almost modern-day Keanu Reeves. In other words, he is a guy who knows that his looks are his strength and charisma is among his list of weaknesses. But he plays upon the latter in this film, which actually works to his disadvantage because in the end, his role is pretty forgettable. Foxx, on the other hand, playing the president, is more entertaining than he has been in years. In a role that couldn’t be a more direct mirror image of Obama (down to his Nicorette chewing), Foxx has a lot of the best lines and the ‘nerd pushed to the edge’ sensibility he displayed in 2004’s Collateral is on full display here. Unfortunately, King is not as good. The task of being the ‘daughter in distress’ is one that is not easy. But she brings none of the things that were needed in the role. In fact, every single time she was onscreen interacting with her captures, she inspired sneers and groans from me. Also, the villains in White House Down are not going to be winning any Alan Rickman awards anytime soon. The computer hacker in particular, with his smarmy lines and annoying presence, fell into continuous cartoonish mode. The rest of the supporting cast ranged from very good to great. I have always been a fan of Woods, and his normal strong presence as the head of Secret Service, along with his mean looking crew cut, was welcomed every single time he walked onscreen. Clarke proves to be better than he was in The Great Gatsby from earlier this year, while Gyllenhaal was almost non-existent. Last year it was Snow White, this year it is White House takeovers. Two films about the same subject matter are not uncommon. Olympus Has Fallen from earlier this year took its subject matter pretty seriously. This film takes the complete implausible route. Every once in awhile its implausibility catches up to it. It’s an exhilarating balancing act that Emmerich has been proving to be a master at for over twenty years. And what’s interesting about a film like this is that no matter how dumb it may seem on the outside, there is a lot of expertise going on in its making. This is a very well made film. Yet, with going as far as to put Tatum in the Die Hard established white tank top, Down comes off as a slightly better than most Die Hard rip off. Albeit an entertaining and well orchestrated one.