White House Down Review: D.C. Under Fire, Again

White House Down Review: D.C. Under Fire, AgainIt’s not unheard of for two movies with similar plots and settings to be released theatrically within the same year. The past 20 years or so have produced 1997’s Dante’s Peak and Volcano; 1998’s Deep Impact and Armageddon; and 1993’s Tombstone and 1994’s Wyatt Earp to name just a few. This year is no different as two very similar terrorists-attack-the-White-House films have graced our cinemas and, well, both have been essentially Die Hard clones. But while one film ripped off the good Die Hard movies, the other chose to rip off the last few, and the results are exactly what you would expect.

White House Down is the second film to hit theaters this year dealing with this subject matter. Olympus Has Fallen was the first and did an admirable job telling a story of a really bad day in our nation’s capital. Olympus took the Die Hard playbook of one man against insurmountable odds and made it work, all the while tugging on our chest-thumping patriotism and making the audience feel empowered that we, the good ‘ol U.S. of A., could overcome a foreign invasion.

Roland Emmerich’s (Godzilla, Independence Day, Universal Soldier) take on the subject is decidedly different. Instead of one man, we get two: Capitol Police Officer John Cale (Channing Tatum) and the President of the United States, James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx). Thanks to Harrison Ford’s turn in Wolfgang Petersen’s Air Force One, Roland Emmerich thinks that the U.S. President — even if played by Bill Pullman — can be an action hero.

White House Down Review: D.C. Under Siege, Take 2

Instead of invading terrorists from a foreign land, a veritable hodgepodge of homegrown baddies, all underlying racist, and all seemingly military trained are on the offensive. And instead of the male lead serving as the epitome of patriotic machismo, Tatum’s Cale makes bad jokes and incredibly stupid decisions, all the while firing guns that don’t miss, completing hand-to-hand combat moves like a ninja, and virtually getting through the entire ordeal with only a small sweat stain on his wife beater.

To put it bluntly, White House Down trips and falls more often than not.

Cale is a Capitol cop who wants nothing more than to be a Secret Service Agent. He was a terrible student in college, served two tours in Afghanistan as a Marine to avoid being a husband and father, and only got his current job because someone owed him a favor. He would be a perfect candidate to join the Secret Service.

Pulling some additional strings with his current employer, Speaker of the House Raphelson (Richard Jenkins), Cale gets an interview for the dream job, and for some reason, it is held in the actual White House as opposed to the Treasury Building where the Secret Service is headquartered. To add to the ludicrousness, Cale brings along his eleven-year old daughter, Emily (Joey King), to the interview. Emily happens to be a U.S. Civics nut and apparently has never even toured the White House, even though she lives in the District of Columbia, and apparently pretty close by since her mother is able to run from their apartment to the area outside the White House once the fun starts.

White House Down Review: D.C. Under Siege, Take 2

Cale’s interviewer is an old college flame named Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who advises Cale that there is no way he is cut out to protect the President. Finnerty’s immediate boss, Special Agent Walker (James Woods), is also in his last day as the personal agent of the President. Walker is retiring after losing his son to the war in the Middle East, and he is scarred over the decisions of Foxx’s President Sawyer.

President Sawyer is just back from a G8 summit where he decreed that the U.S. would be pulling out all troops from the Middle East and effectively ending the wars. He also calls for the Arab nations to come to the table to finally talk long-term peace.

At the same time this is happening, a band of terrorists led by Emil Stentz (Jason Clarke, who is so much better than this) disguised as home theater installers infiltrate the White House with a nefarious plot to kidnap the President and make some serious cash, while punishing him for his policies as a collateral bonus.

With this set-up, everything you think is about to happen does and it’s up to Cale to protect the President, save his daughter, and defend his homeland.

White House Down Review: D.C. Under Siege, Take 2

White House Down tries to beat on the chest of patriotism, but fails. Sure, the crowd I saw it with laughed at the many one-liners and the inside jokes, and even jokes at the expense of a black President including Foxx’s Sawyer opting to switch to a pair of Air Jordan’s at one point. You would almost think that this was a comedy by the clip at which these lines and gags are fired. While Olympus played it serious, Down points its compass the opposite direction.

The bad guys are all military trained, and when they begin their assault, they dispatch the Secret Service agents with surgical precision. It doesn’t matter that the U.S. Secret Service is the best of the best in nearly all facets of police work and protection. For James Vanderbilt’s (The Amazing Spider-Man) script, they are keystone cops who are systematically wiped out without taking down one single terrorist. In fact, the first terrorist to go down is felled by Cale, which infuriates the leader, Stentz, who then makes it personal to hunt down and seek revenge.

After the initial assault and capture of the White House, the terrorists all revert to cartoons, including a mountainous eastern European muscle-head, and a swarmy, annoying tech geek (Jimmie Simpson, who literally owns the trademark on playing guys like this) who can crack the computer systems in the White House — and our nation, it seems — and gain control of the nuclear codes, among other things.

White House Down seems to have learned its civics from the TV show, 24. In fact, it borrows heavily from a few of the FOX Network’s hit series’ middle seasons. It doesn’t matter that Emmerich and Vanderbilt didn’t even bother to verify anything, they just play loosely with our structure of government and it’s rather insulting.

White House Down Review: D.C. Under Siege, Take 2

I will say that even though there are copious amounts of destruction, including the rotunda of the U.S. Capital building, Emmerich is restrained here from going overboard with the damage. How many times can you blow up the Executive Mansion before it becomes unfashionable?

When you boil it down to its essence, White House Down is a “buddy cop” movie in the vein of Lethal Weapon or 48 Hours. Unlike those films/franchises, which played loose with the subject matter, Down is trying to be serious and it fails in almost every way.

Channing Tatum has everything needed to be an action star except the ability to act, and Academy Award Winner Jamie Foxx is so much better than this. The supporting cast is peppered with big actors in small roles, which is a staple of Roland Emmerich, but as each new recognizable face appeared, I could only ask why they would even bother. Some people need to fire their agents.

White House Down should earn some cash over the Fourth of July weekend, but its ticket sales decline should be rapid and steep. It’s a shallow, sometimes insulting action film that is rife with cliches and doesn’t even try to pretend otherwise. When compared to the assault on the District of Columbia film that came before it, White House Down can’t even stand up and truly is a White House “down.”

White House Down is rated PG-13 and opens nationwide on June 28, 2013.

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