We say a picture is worth a thousand words. If my math is correct, a two hour and seventeen minute movie, therefore, should be worth 197,280 words (at 24 frames per second). Why, then, when White House Down ended, did my friend turn to me and say, “There are no words…”, and begin conjuring up fantasies of what he could have been doing for the previous 2+ hours instead? The answer is that White House Down is a terrible movie that misses all of its marks. It is not the fun explosion-filled action spectacle we used to expect from director Roland Emmerich in the mid-late 90’s and early 00’s. It’s better than 2012 and worse than Anonymous, although comparing WHD to 2012 is like comparing dirt to mud. It’s a shame this movie falls so far short because it had all the right ingredients in place for it to be a loud summer escapist romp. Instead, White House Down belittles its own silly story by trading in ‘silliness’ for ‘stupidity’. It is chalk full of stale acting and uninspired thrills, complete with a genuinely shocking amount of unrealistic moments (yes, even for a film about the White House being hijacked).
Channing Tatum stars as John Cale, a bodyguard for the House Speaker who yearns to become a member of the secret service and in turn, also impress his adolescent political junky daughter, played with respectable child-acting talent by Joey King. (Writer’s note: Must naming every male action hero follow the same formula?! — i.e. John __‘insert unique sounding last name’__ .) So, John Cale is at the White House with his daughter when American terrorists lay siege to Capitol Hill and capture President Sawyer (a replaceable Jamie Foxx). The rest goes a little like this — Cale and his daughter are separated, he protects the President and kills many bad guys, the President also kicks some ass and its amusing because he’s the President, and meanwhile a totally inept U.S. military can’t do anything except argue about jurisdiction, political power shifts, and look worried. Whew! Just saved you 2+ hours. This isn’t the type of film that will surprise you at every turn, so I’ll leave the plot summary at that and assume you can fill in the rest of the details yourself with surprising accuracy, whether you’ve seen the movie or not.
White House Down is, as many know, the second film this year that’s centered around the iconic building being ransacked and torn apart – the first being the Gerard Butler action-thriller Olympus Has Fallen. That film was stamped with an ‘R’ rating and even though it didn’t break any new ground, it provided some visceral fight sequences and an overall escapist adventure, albeit a controversially violent one. WHD, on the other hand, fails to take advantage of a PG-13 rating by aiming too often at a serious tone, knowing full well that everything that occurs in the story is completely preposterous. There are only a few exchanges and moments that come close to illiciting a chuckle, the closest being a direct shout-out to the destruction of the White House in Emmerich’s Independence Day. The banter between Foxx and Tatum is passable at best, and it’s always about the same stuff. They don’t even bother whispering when they’re hiding from the bad guys! I can’t even count how many times the action commences because either Foxx’s or Tatum’s character draws attention to himself. It’s a lousy excuse to start each new action sequence and it’s also frustrating to watch. But that’s not the stuff that really bothered me.
What the heck is the deal with the U.S. military in WHD!? An inept military is a common staple of the action genre, but this is just ridiculous. I guess no one, neither members of the secret service nor a heavily armed SWAT team, wear bullet proof vests because a single shot to the chest or stomach from small silenced pistols is enough to bring them all down. Again, I’m okay with the White House being hijacked, but part of the fun is seeing some solid action unfold to accomplish that tremendous feat. I could understand, and even enjoy, a plot involving terrorists and hostages holed up inside a small subsection of the White House and shielding themselves from military advances, but for WHD to suggest that they are able to shield themselves from every possible type of assault (air, ground, etc.) because they gradually “set up shop” inside and on the roof is just plain stupid. As I watched it all unfold, I kept thinking – this would have been quelled within ten minutes! And later, as guns are pressed against heads so often that I started becoming unsure if the gesture was a threat or massage technique, and as the masses of military vehicles, weaponry, and soldiers were shown standing around the outskirts of the White House lawn (for crowd control, I assume), even as bad guys were completely exposing themselves to be shot down, I then began thinking — boy, I hope the reason behind all this terrorizing hooplah is a worthy cause.
It was around the five minute mark, when WHD‘s idea of establishing a character involved Channing Tatum talking to a squirrel, that I realized my expectations were not going to be met. What a shame, because I like the idea of Die Hard meets The Rock meets Commando meets Air Force One, starring Magic Mike and Django, with James Woods. This mashup sounds exciting, but I strongly recommend watching any of these individual titles instead and sparing yourself the 2+ hours you will never get back.
White House Down opens in Bay Area theaters today, June 28th, 2013.