White House Down
The White House is having a rough time lately. First up this year COBRA gave the White House a bit of a battering in GI JOE: Retaliation, then later on it was the turn of the North Koreans to take over the White House (and generally smash the place up a bit) in Olympus Has Fallen. Next up in the ‘smash-up the White House’ genre is White House Down, the latest film from professional White House smasher-upper Roland Emmerich who famously blew up the place, with a giant alien space laser, in Independence Day.
The story is a fairly familiar one, especially this year where taking over at 1600 Penn is the thing to do. John Cale (Channing Tatum) is an ex-serviceman who now does security work for the Secretary of State, not a bad you might think? Well apparently it’s not good enough for Mr Cale, so he’s managed to wangle an interview to work on the President’s security detail. It will come as no surprise, to anyone who has ever seen an action film, that Cale has a daughter, Emily (Joey King) that he doesn’t spend enough time with and he’s just so busy at work that he forgets to do things that he promised he would. Fortunately Emily LOVES the White House, the President and all things political. I bet she’s even seen every episode of the West Wing, twice, the little nerd. John and Emily Cale are on the way to the White House for his interview to be in the Secret Service, I know this because John Cale is happy to tell everyone he’s got an interview to work for the Secret Service. I’m pretty sure that a big part of the Secret Service is the whole secret thing?
White House Down is always going to be compared to Olympus Has Fallen, in the same way that Deep Impact and Armageddon and Volcano and Dante’s Peak will be forever linked. It’s just what happens when you release two films about exactly the same thing in the same year. The good news for White House Down is that it is definitely more Deep Impact and less Armageddon (in case you’re unsure that’s a good thing, I love Deep Impact). Olympus Has Fallen was very serious in it’s approach, well serious about everything apart from security at the White House. On the other hand White House Down is a lot of fun. It’s a really dumb movie, and it knows that it’s a dumb movie and it revels in it. A good example of this is when the President (Jamie Foxx) is leaning out of the armoured presidential car with a rocket launcher, and we get a cut to a reporter saying ‘Oh my God! It’s President Sawyer and he has a rocket launcher!’.
Jamie Foxx is a surprisingly good President, and during the first third of the film (which was mostly scene setting and exposition) I really enjoyed him just swanning about the White House being all Presidential. He’s no Jed Bartlett but he’s only in his first term, give him a chance. Channing Tatum was actually very good in this as well, he was much less dour than Gerard Butler in Olympus Has Fallen and he is a much more believable action star. The tone of the film is a little up and down, one minute it’s a fairly broad comedy with some slapstick humour then someone dies and it’s very sombre and sad (I know this because the music became very sad all of a sudden).
The villains here are a little bit bland, and their motivations aren’t that clear but that said they do have a lot more personality than anything we saw in Olympus Has Fallen or the recent (dreadful) A Good Day to Die Hard. One of them is diabetic ex-CIA operative, one of them is a clever hacker type (who likes to eat sweets and listen to classical music while he hacks) and one of them is a big old hillbilly racist. Ok, they’re not the deepest characters in the world, but they’re well played and have infinitely more personality than the faceless drones in A Good Day to Die Hard or Olympus Has Fallen.
It’s a stupid film, but it’s massively entertaining. I don’t think there was a point in the whole thing where I wasn’t entertained, there’s lots of action and things blowing up, there’s some reasonably funny lines in there as well. It’s a proper, old fashioned action film (Channing Tatum even wears a vest while shooting people). The plot is perhaps a little bit flakey in places, and Maggie Gyllenhaal has very little to do as Secret Service agent but it’s still a lot of fun and an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.