Friday, June 28, 2013

In Theaters: WHITE HOUSE DOWN (2013)

(US - 2013)

Directed by Roland Emmerich.  Written by James Vanderbilt.  Cast: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, James Woods, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Richard Jenkins, Joey King, Michael Murphy, Jimmi Simpson, Nicolas Wright, Rachelle Lefevre, Lance Reddick, Matt Craven, Jake Weber, Barbara Williams, Garcelle Beauvais, Peter Jacobson, Kevin Rankin, Falk Hentschel, Andrew Simms. (PG-13, 132 mins)

It always helps when a dumb action movie knows it's a dumb action movie.  WHITE HOUSE DOWN, the latest from director/Washington, DC destruction fetishist Roland Emmerich, was beaten to theaters by the very similar "DIE HARD IN THE WHITE HOUSE"-themed OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN, but overall, it's the more enjoyable movie, benefitting significantly from not taking itself so seriously.  Aside from some unconvincing CGI explosions that seem to be an unfortunate necessity these days, Emmerich keeps things refreshingly, almost quaintly old-school in terms of style and direction.  When's the last time you saw a big-budget action movie that didn't have blurry shaky-cam and constant video-game zooms?  With a couple of exceptions, the action sequences in WHITE HOUSE DOWN are straightforwardly constructed and best of all, coherent.  It's a sad statement on modern moviemaking when stable camera operation and coherent editing are in such low supply that they have to be specifically singled out for praise on one of the rare occasions that they occur, but I'll take what I can get.

Emmerich and screenwriter James Vanderbilt (ZODIAC) leave no cliché unutilized as divorced Capitol cop John Cale (Channing Tatum) and his estranged, politically-astute 11-year-old daughter Emily (Joey King) go on a White House tour only to end up in the middle of an attack against President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx), pulled off by the chief of his security detail, retiring Agent Walker (James Woods).  Walker, enraged that his Marine son was killed in a botched, Sawyer-ordered covert ops mission in Afghanistan, has commissioned a team of mercenary domestic terrorists and right-wing militia goons led by Stenz (Jason Clarke) to hold the President hostage in exchange for $400 million and the President's nuclear launch codes.  Separated from the tour group and from his daughter, Cale manages to rescue the captive Sawyer from the PEOC bunker as Walker and Stenz pursue the pair through the White House.  Meanwhile, House Speaker Raphelson (Richard Jenkins), Joint Chiefs chair Gen. Caulfield (Lance Reddick), and Agent Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who of course, knew Cale in college, try to sort out the situation as Vice President Hammond (Michael Murphy) is taken up in Air Force Two and prepped to assume command. 

Make no mistake, WHITE HOUSE DOWN is a stupid movie.  Make a drinking game of the clichés and you'll be passed out before the White House is even attacked:  with Cale's daughter calling him "John," is there any way she won't be back to calling him "Dad" by the end of the movie?  And of course Gen. Caulfield has to be this film's mandatory "Deputy Chief of Police Dwayne T. Robinson," refusing to listen to Finnerty and wrongly suspecting that she may be involved with Walker's plan.  And then there's Jimmi Simpson as Tyler, the hyper, snarky ex-NSA hacker hired by Walker to commandeer the government's computer system, sitting in front of a row of monitors faux-conducting blaring Beethoven, sucking on lollipops ("Sweet sugary goodness!"), and referring to himself in the third person.  But it's so infectiously fun and cognizant of its own silliness that it works in spite of itself.  Tatum isn't asked to emote much, and he and Foxx make a great bickering pair straight out of a mismatched "if they don't kill each other first!" cop buddy movie.  The generous amounts of intentional humor work very well, whether it's the ludicrous sight of a car chase on the White House lawn with Foxx dangling out of the window hoisting a rocket launcher, Tatum doing a TJ HOOKER car hood slide across a White House dining room table, or the welcome presence of Woods (how great is it to see him with a meaty role in a big movie again?) giving the cocky Clarke one of those classic fast-talking, finger-pointing James Woods dressing-downs that always seem to start with "OK, listen up, Junior..."  And I haven't even mentioned a late plot twist that plays out in the most laugh-out-loud, SCOOBY-DOO-meets-SNL way possible, stopping just short of the plan's true mastermind raising his fist and grumbling "And I would've gotten away with it if it weren't for your meddling, Magic Mike!"


  1. I am still reeling that the screenwriter James Vanderbilt (of the wealthy Vanderbilt family) was paid $3 million for this script. Is this a $3 million script to you?

  2. It's very entertaining trash, but yeah...the same dude wrote ZODIAC?!