Starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Richard Jenkins, Joey King, James Woods, Nicolas Wright, Lance Reddick, Jimmi Simpson, Kevin Rankin, Michael Murphy, Rachelle Lefevre
Directed by Roland Emmerich
Expectations: Pretty low, but I like the leads enough to watch them in a dumb action movie.
To call White House Down a variation on Die Hard is an understatement. White House Down IS Die Hard in the White House, but while shameless rip-offs and recycling of storylines is usually a bad thing, White House Down is so much fun that I hardly cared that I had seen this same setup before. Besides… Die Hard is awesome. There are definitely times when the nods to Die Hard are too on-the-nose (such as using Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony instead of the Ninth, with no other context but as a Die Hard reference), but even these moments made me smile instead of groan. And that’s the key thing in a dumb action movie like this: the tone is light enough and the action is furious enough for all those little annoyances to simply roll off your back. White House Down is definitely a whole lot of dumb, but that never stopped ’80s action movies, and it shouldn’t stop you from enjoying one of the best modern “old school” action movies I’ve seen in a while.
As you might expect from the title and the poster, White House Down is about a terrorist capture of the White House and one man slinking around and messing up the bad guy’s plans. Doesn’t get much more simple than that. Unfortunately, because this is 2013 it takes a while to actually get to the plot that matters. Director Roland Emmerich spends nearly 40 minutes setting up the characters and the inevitable takeover of the President’s home. Modern films just can’t seem to get down to business so I expected this, but what I didn’t expect was that once the pin is pulled, this grenade of a movie explodes into pretty much non-stop action and thrills. It’s intense, ridiculous and incredibly enjoyable.
That’s not to say that the action doesn’t have its share of modern problems. The CG used for every plane and helicopter looks noticeably fake, sometimes more obviously than others. This isn’t too much of an issue, as it all looks good enough, it’s just a little too video game for me at times (but what modern movie isn’t). There’s also a huge number of green screen shots that are painfully obvious. This will definitely kill many people’s enjoyment of aspects of the film, but when you’re making a movie that has our nation’s President firing off a rocket launcher, a little obvious green screen should never matter too much. They clearly can’t film shit like this on the White House lawn, so these are the concessions necessary to get a movie involving a prominent real place like this. The editing is also pretty choppy at times during the hand-to-hand sequences. Thankfully there aren’t a lot of these, and the editing isn’t horrid or anything, so this once again becomes a minor annoyance instead of any sort of deal breaker.
You’re probably aware that a nearly identically themed film came out a few months prior called Olympus Has Fallen. I haven’t seen that one, nor do I have any interest in doing so. While I’m usually not one to follow actors, when given two films with the same premise in the space of a couple of months it seems natural to just see the one that features the cast you enjoy more. I’ve never cared for Gerard Butler, and I have been nothing but impressed with Channing Tatum, so it was a given that I’d go for White House Down. Add in Jamie Foxx as the President, Richard Jenkins & Maggie Gyllenhaal? Oh, and James Woods with a white flat-top? It’s no contest. Thankfully for me, I enjoyed the hell out of White House Down, so I don’t have to forever wonder if I picked the wrong one.
And speaking of Channing Tatum, he’s absolutely perfect as the one-man wrecking crew,
John McLane John Cale. He’s a good enough actor to hold down the dramatic moments and he’s skilled at comedy enough to sell the comedic touches. He’s also intimidating and buff enough to actually be believable as this type of character. The days of the buff ’80s dudes blasting their way through bad guys are long gone, but Channing Tatum reminds us that even in this modern “Anyone can be an Action Hero” age, nothing compares with a big buff dude. Between The Rock, Jason Momoa, Channing Tatum, and the success of the Expendables films, I hope that a large-scale revitalization of the true action genre isn’t too far behind. MOAR BUFFF DOODZ!
White House Down isn’t logical, but the best action films aren’t. It is incredibly fun and relentlessly entertaining. Highly recommended.