[img]http://media2.firstshowing.net/firstshowing/img7/whitehousedown-internationalposter1-full.jpg[/img]WARNING: PLOT SPOILERS OF VARYING DEGREES REGARDING THIS FILM -- WHICH WAS RELEASED IN U.S. THEATERS THIS PAST FRIDAY THE 28th OF JUNE -- BELOW; IF YOU HAVE NOT YET SEEN THIS, PLEASE DO NOT READ. THANK YOU.
Here’s the first question I have for you: Jamie Foxx as the President of the United States? Only in a Roland Emmerich summer disaster blockbuster. I mean, why not, right? We had Danny Glover in the role as master of the free world in Emmerich’s 2012 – an absolutely ludicrous choice – and now he takes a guy better known for his standup routines and work in projects such as Booty Call and Any Given Sunday and throws him into the character and it just doesn’t work…you’ll see what I mean when you see White House Down, where we witness the President reaching for a pair of Jordans so he can accompany the rogue wanna-be Secret Service agent (Channing Tatum) on a mission to run about the catacombs of the White House property (a la National Treasure: Book of Secrets) while delivering commentary and rhetoric that no American President would ever mutter…I mean the whole thing with Foxx was beyond ridiculous, and unfortunately White House Down suffers for it. This is a tactic normally only pulled off by the likes of Michael Bay – that is, ridiculous casting choices and characters being put into situations that can’t possibly be plausible no matter which way you look at it, but Roland Emmerich in all his summer blow-it-all-up glory has managed to catch up hot on the heels of Bay in making these kinds of check-your-brain-at-the-door films in which there’s no way you can remotely enjoy them unless you do so, i.e. Independence Day, 2012, The Day After Tomorrow and, as some critics even accuse, The Patriot though I think that’s one of Emmerich’s best efforts to date outside of its ridiculously inaccurate historical approach.
Actually, I have been waiting to see when a Roland Emmerich summer disaster blockbuster would eventually make its way to our theaters once more, and we got it in the form of White House Down…before I delve into the meat and potatoes here, let’s explore this newfound obsession of sorts with depicting the grounds of the U.S. capital being taken over by outside forces – seemingly quite easily – in addition to completely immobilizing the country’s military response abilities that Hollywood appears to be embroiled in. White House Down, coming out just a few months after Olympus Has Fallen, seems to me a title that suffers from the “Armageddon/Deep Impact conundrum" – that is, they are similar types of stories about almost identical subject matter released not too far apart from one another theatrically. Those aforementioned asteroid disaster films aren’t the only such examples of this tactic, but I was merely suggesting the obvious ones; be that as it may, White House Down wasn’t really half the action film Olympus Has Fallen was…it lacked the sheer kinetic energy Fallen had, and as I stated was made all the more goofy and offputting with Foxx in the lead as the President. Oddly enough, at times it feels like an Emmerich film while at other moments it doesn’t; there was something ultimately missing from this picture…a sense of threatening dread and terror that Olympus had running rampant through it. Where Olympus presented really dangerous, murderous thugs from an Asian country that want to take over the U.S. White House for reasons mainly revolving around America’s involvement in their affairs there, Down makes more a mockery of sorts out of the “terrorists” that siege the U.S. capital (that is, Washington DC). Not that the thugs that raid the White House in Emmerich’s film aren’t threatening or violent – there was just something about the Orient-esque mercenaries (mainly the guy who played Johnny Tran in the first Fast and the Furious who was absolutely on fire as the lead terrorist) in Olympus that was much more frightening.
As usual, Emmerich has assembled a massive cast to star in his 2013 – well, now that his 2012 was supposed to take inaccurate ramblings of the Mayan calendar to suggest our world as we know it wouldn’t be here any longer and has been surpassed – summer blockbuster about hostage-takers that raid the White House for reasons that end up bordering on similar to the reasons Ed Harris’ character in The Rock took his hostages…in other words, the reason is foggy and ridiculous. Channing Tatum turns in a decent performance as a young local DC cop that is struggling through a divorce and sharing custody rights for his little girl. His dream is to become a Secret Service agent and to get on Presidential detail, but when a favor is called in that gets him an interview with agent in charge Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal), he’s rejected for a sheer lack of stability in his past employment and due to a lack of necessary education. Meanwhile, President Sawyer (Foxx) has made an announcement that America will be pulling all their troops out of the Middle East, something that doesn’t sit well with many of his cabinet under him, not to mention some rogue people such as James Woods’ Walker character, who is a week away from retirement and who leads the entire Secret Service handling Sawyer’s detail. Walker has a pretty big axe to grind with Sawyer’s policies and it involves something pretty close to home for Walker – his son, who was killed in a mission that went bad in the Middle East. Here’s the thing: On this particular day, when the White House is about to be raided by a gang of machine gun-toting mercenaries, Tatum’s “Cale” character has been given passes for a White House tour of which his daughter has been ecstatic to go, given her obsession with government and this particular President in power. While on the tour, we witness some of the hired thugs, now wearing maintenance garb and wheeling around carts of what appears to be cleaning chemicals, enter the center of the capitol building and let loose an explosion that rocks the walls and crumbles most of the structure…the game is on!
Of course, absolute chaos ensues, in which the President is immediately guarded by Walker and some of his men inside the Oval Office, while Cale and his daughter Emily (Joey King) get separated, Cale immediately rushing to find out what’s going on what with his cop instincts. Much like Gerard Butler’s character in Olympus Has Fallen, Tatum’s Cale becomes a one-man rogue defense against the scenario unfolding at the White House, taking out many of these bad guys single-handedly and obtaining some of their weapons in the process. We eventually learn of the steep involvement of agent Walker, who has been in total charge of Sawyer’s Presidential protection detail for some time now, after he keeps Sawyer as a hostage himself, much to the President’s shock. But Cale has somehow made his way to where the two men are, walking through the catacombs of the residency, and ends up saving Sawyer from the clutches of Walker just in time. This whole notion that this “rogue” cop, Cale, just comes out of nowhere and is now protecting the President single-handedly, the two of them playing cat-and-mouse through the White House property – even climbing atop elevator shafts – was beyond far-fetched, made even more asinine when the President stops in his bedroom to throw on a pair of Air Jordans so he can keep up with Cale. Really? I love Jordans as much as the next guy…but to depict the most powerful man in the world as finding this to be a priority in the midst of what’s happening around him? Come on…
We learn the secret behind what is going on here in this plot as the story develops and as Finnerty, General Caulfield (Lance Reddick) and others are taken to a secure military bunker as they try and sort out what has happened and why the White House has been attacked. It seems agent Walker (Woods) is beyond bitter for what happened to his son in the Middle East, and as a show of misplaced revenge, he demands a hefty ransom from the Federal Reserve…but, of course, all is not what it seems as we learn this isn’t really about money but rather Walker’s downward-spiraling health condition which includes a cancerous tumor that is not giving him that long to live. This is uncovered when the government drags in Walker’s wife to try and talk sense into him and agent in charge Finnerty (Gyllenhaal) discovers the secret about Walker’s condition. But what didn’t make sense to me is that Emmerich suggests to us that Walker is doing this as a sort of suicide mission – no other reason; so, we go from him wanting money to being angry that the government and Sawyer’s cabinet is responsible for his son’s death to some kind of plot about this guy going batty over a medical condition…and wanting to commit suicide because of it? I didn’t buy it. In retrospect, even Ed Harris’ General Hummel character in The Rock had a more clear-cut reasoning for his taking of hostages in that film…and that was beyond ridiculous.
There is also an element of Walker’s planning revolving around the men he hired to pull this attack on the White House off – apparently, the military discovers after Finnerty demands they take a deeper look into their backgrounds, most of these tattooed, muscle-bound grotesques are of white supremacist groups “upset” over the fact that Sawyer is in power at all; this, to me, comes at a very bad time what with the issues we’re seeing on TV regarding the Paula Deen situation as well as the George Zimmerman trial…the element and vibe here was a bit offputting given what’s happening in the news as of late. Oh, a pretty important sub-plot develops when Cale’s daughter, first on her own escaping the hostage group from the tour so she could snap pictures of the terrorists with her camera phone, is finally caught by the savage mercenaries, but her phone makes it into media hands, where the pictures of these guys go instantly viral, giving the government forces something to work with in identifying them. There’s also the lunatic, off-the-wall computer hacker that has been employed by Walker to override the White House systems (played by Jimmi Simpson), an odd sort of lad that spends his time commending himself on his great work, talking to his computers and making odd gestures and statements in a character that reminded me very much of “Pollux Troy” (Alessandro Nivola) from Face/Off.
With Sawyer in tow with him, still, Cale manages to fend off most of these mercenaries – which includes great, kinetic hand-to-hand combat sequences between Tatum’s Cale and Walker’s lead henchman played by Jason Clarke of Zero Dark Thirty in which these two guys beat the absolute red blood out of one another – to the point that he and Sawyer are able to escape to one of the Presidential limos, where a chase around the front lawn of the White House ensues. Walker’s mercenaries are hot on the tail of the President and Cale, firing machine guns and weapons at them from every angle; meanwhile, the U.S. military has ordered a tank strike on the thugs lying on the roof of the House – about time – crashing the front gate and getting their missile off, but otherwise encountering heavy counter-resistance. You know, all throughout this, I kept asking my wife…where is the military? Why is it taking so long to get any kind of response from the defense department to take back control of the White House? Alas, finally, after Air Force One is shot down with the newly sworn-in Vice President on board (Michael Murphy) by a missile fired from an overridden NORAD complex somewhere in Ohio (handy work of the computer hacker Tyler), the military sends in a special attack force on Black Hawks, but this doesn’t go so well as the terrorists at the White House have come prepared with surface-to-air missiles ready to fire at any incoming aircraft. At this point, White House Down picks up speed and steam, allowing us to look beyond the ridiculousness of its plot holes and dialogue and just settle in for some typical Roland Emmerich blow-em-up fun. Does Secret Service agent in charge-turned-traitor Walker accomplish his mission? Does he ever get President Sawyer in his own clutches so he can get the launch codes from him to fire off nukes at targets around the world? Does it inevitably start World War III? Does Cale’s daughter Emily ever get out of harm’s way from these lunatics that use her as a bargaining chip to get Cale to show himself and stop hunting them one by one? Does Cale ultimately save the President’s life…and, better yet, does he finally get a spot on Sawyer’s Secret Service for his impressive work on this day? You’ll have to watch White House Down to find out.
At the end, this was typical Emmerich nonsense – fun, over-the-top but utterly implausible. It wasn’t as good as Olympus Has Fallen – which I think has been the best film of the summer thus far – but I think it warrants a buy on Blu-ray release day if you already have some of his other work in your DVD and Blu-ray library, such as Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and The Patriot.
If you have seen this, tell me what you thought! I’ll have some more Blu-ray reviews up shortly, including those of The Call and a Richard Gere financial potboiler you may have missed…