A film review by Craig J. Koban July 3, 2013


2013, PG-13, 137 mins.


Channing Tatum as Cale  /  Jamie Foxx as President James Sawyer  /  Joey King as Emily  /  Maggie Gyllenhaal as Finnerty  /  Richard Jenkins as Raphelson  /  James Woods as Walker

Directed by Roland Emmerich  /  Written by James Vanderbilt


Actually, scratch that last comment…it’s more like a poverty-stricken child trapped in a deep economic well with no chance in hell of ever climbing out of it.  

This is hardly the first time that Hollywood has made two separate films that are eerily alike in premise and story, but after watching WHITE HOUSE DOWN it's very clear that – despite its otherwise plagiaristic resemblance to OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN – it’s the decidedly weaker of the two; quite frankly, it's not even in the same league. 

In Antoine Fuqua’s OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN the White House falls to a terrorist attack (perpetrated by North Korea).  Ditto for WHITE HOUSE DOWN (granted, homeland terrorists are the culprits).  In OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN the President is held captive while the world breathlessly waits.  Ditto for WHITE HOUSE DOWN.  In OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN a tough and rugged everyman that’s in the wrong place at the wrong time begins a one-man-army mission to save the president and secure the White House in pure John McClane-ian fashion.  Ditto for WHITE HOUSE DOWN.  And hey – wouldn’t ya know it? – OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN’s ex-military muscle bound super hero saves the day in the end.  Ditto for WHITE HOUSE DOWN.  I could go on and on… 

Here’s the thing, though: OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN was an unapologetically violent ode to the hard-R rated 1980’s action films that helped spawn it, whereas the PG-13-ified WHITE HOUSE DOWN merely emerges as a pathetic, watered down poser.  

Maybe this is not assisted by the casting of overall pretty-boy Channing Tatum, who looks far too clean cut and pristinely handsome to be considered in the same league as OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN's more rough around the edges and grizzled Gerard Butler to be taken seriously as a genuine kick-ass action hero.  Tatum plays a down-on-his luck ex-soldier named Cale that is currently working as the protector for Speaker of the House Raphelson (the too-good-for-this-movie Richard Jenkins) and is desperately looking to become a Secret Service agent.  He conveniently has an 11-year-old White House/President/American political history loving daughter, Emily (Joey King) that is one of those types of kids that only exist in this movie to (1) be an implausible fountain of information about the film’s subject matter and (2) be an inevitable kidnap victim that will later be used as bait by the bad guys. 



Cole takes his daughter on a tour of the White House and for his job interview with Secret Service Agent Finnerty (also too-good-to-be-in-this-movie, Maggie Gyllenhaal), whom shares a past with Cole and only remembers his less-than-stellar days of causing trouble.  After the failed interview, Cole and Emily manage to meet President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx, trying to evoke current President Obama, I think)  who manages to let Emily record him speaking into her cell phone camera for a future You Tube video (yup, sure, uh-huh), but briefly after this the White House is taken over by a clandestine group that is working within it led by Stenz (ZERO DARK THIRTY’s Jason Clarke, seriously having no business being in this movie) who is also conspiring with someone else placed within the higher echelons of Sawyer’s inner circle.  Cole manages to escape capture, unlike his daughter, the president, and everyone else in the White House, and begins his covert plan to save everyone. 

WHITE HOUSE DOWN was directed by Roland Emmerich, the German filmmaker that has made a career of destroying not only Washington, but also the entire world (see INDEPENDENCE DAY, THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW, and 2012).  The problem with WHITE HOUSE DOWN is that he has such a penchant for visual effects and computer rendered fakery that it becomes a distraction from what should have been real old school meat and potatoes styled action.  By comparison, Fuqua – no stranger in his own right to high-octane and viscerally charged action – knew that the key to his similar film was to make it as raw, white-knuckled, and teeth clenched as possible.  Emmerich has a better faculty for large-scale destruction and chaos, which makes him a bit of an ill fit for a DIE HARD-esque action thriller.  Too much of WHITE HOUSE DOWN is comprised on middling-to-adequate visual effects overkill when it should have been more low-key, gritty, and brawny. 

Considering that this film is from the writer of ZODIAC, James Vanderbit, I'm frankly aghast at how utterly dumbed down, cheese-infested, and laughable incredulous WHITE HOUSE DOWN’s script is, which piles on one logically inept humdinger of a plot development after the other to the point of the film coming off as an unintentional comedy.  Too much of the film left me asking nagging questions, like how the most secure building in the world could be so easily taken over by people posing as a home theater installation crew.  Then there is notion of one of the bad guys, the ring leader - despite pushing 60-years-old and having a brain tumor that will cause him to die at any moment - that still manages to physically duke it out with the hero like he was still a spring chicken.  My favorite howler of a moment has Sawyer – while in Cale’s protective care, but still in danger – feeling the need to stop and get a pair of his favorite pair of Jordan sneakers (cue product placement) to more comfortably sneak around in.  Oh, he also needs his Nicorette gum.  I mean, this dude’s stressed: he wants peace in the Middle East and now domestic terrorists want him dead. 

It's positively shocking how many high pedigree performers were assembled for this silly, silly film: People like Gyllenhaal, Foxx, Clarke, Jenkins, and James Woods make appearances and embarrassingly try to make every groan-inducing scene they’re in feel as serious as a heart attack.  I did like the young King, who does have the thankless task of being a figure of terrified anxiety while demonstrating courage under fire (even though she kind of comes off as impractically brave during some moments of the film).  Then there’s Tatum, an actor that is perhaps better harnessed when playing smaller supporting roles and comedic ones (he was a hoot playing a monumentally stupid cop in 21 JUMP STREET).  Here, Tatum is expected to look glistened to perfection while storming through the White House sporting a tank top and machine gun, so on those levels he succeeds.  Yet, he just doesn’t have Butler’s level of macho blunt force lethality and cunning required for the role.  

I’ve been a staunch apologist for Emmerich’s films over the years, oftentimes lauding their mindlessness as a complimentary trait, not damning one.  Now with WHITE HOUSE DOWN I’m…well…just not so forgiving anymore.  I found OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN to be unhealthily entertaining as a wickedly sensationalistic DIE HARD facsimile.  That film was absurdly fun.  WHITE HOUSE DOWN – with all of its estranged dad/daughter formulas, political plot twists that you can see a mile away, rampant CGI-centric mayhem, and cartoonishly rendered narrative manipulations – is just mindless and soulless nonsense that I just couldn’t embrace as I wanted to.  It might also be the first film in movie history to have the dignified leader of the free world proclaim in the heat of battle, “I ain’t doin’ that shit!”

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