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Review: White House Down (2013)

White House Down (2013)

Directed by: Roland Emmerich

Premise: Domestic terrorists take over the White House while a Washington DC policeman (Channing Tatum) his daughter (Joey King) are on a tour. The policeman must rescue his daughter and protect the president (Jamie Foxx).

What Works: White House Down is a fun action shoot-‘em-up adventure. The problem with a lot of recent action pictures is that they take themselves too seriously but the filmmakers of White House Down allow for humor and the picture has a successful combination of action with appropriate comic relief. The laughs do not cheapen the action and the filmmakers find the right balance between the humor and the violence. White House Down is also distinguished by its commitment to characters and story. Action movies are not renowned for their screenwriting and the plot of White House Down isn’t exactly a brain teaser but it is tightly written and structurally sound, with character traits and plot elements smartly set up and paid off. In that respect, White House Down is a return to form for director Roland Emmerich. His recent pictures like 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, and 10,000 BC, aside from being uniformly terrible, were so broad in their scope that they lost the human dimension that had worked in movies like Stargate and Independence Day. White House Down maintains an appropriate relationship between the characters and the set pieces and so the action is about more than just explosions. The film also has characters who are worth caring about. White House Down capitalizes on Channing Tatum’s likability and he is credible as a father trying to save his daughter. The partnership between Tatum’s character and the president played by Jamie Foxx is also enjoyable. Foxx usually plays tough guys but here he allows himself to be awkward and that offers opportunities for comedy and humanity. And in that way, White House Down is distinguished among other action fare of the summer of 2013. The characters of this movie go out on a limb to save other people and so there is a sense of heroism to this movie that has been lacking in other action pictures.

What Doesn’t: White House Down is remarkably similar to Olympus Has Fallen, another White House siege movie that was released just three months earlier. White House Down is superior in every respect, with better special effects, more interesting characters, and a greater sense of fun and showmanship. But the parallels between the movies go beyond the premise, as they share nearly identical set pieces and plot twists. As a result, viewers who saw Olympus Has Fallen will probably get the sensation of déjà vu, although if viewers have to pick one White House siege movie to see this year, White House Down is the better pick. However, what both Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down are really channeling is the original Die Hard and many of their shared qualities are shamelessly ripped off of the 1988 film. White House Down is a Roland Emmerich movie, and like the director’s other pictures such as Independence Day and 2012 this movie is frequently absurd. That absurdity is part of the joy of an action-adventure spectacle but like Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow, that absurdity extends to the movie’s politics. The president, played by Jamie Foxx, is an idealized leftist version of Barack Obama and the character’s decision to carry out a complete military withdrawal from the Middle East prompts a rightwing revolt. This is all quite silly but it’s less a political statement and more a pretense for the action. And just as the politics of White House Down are naïve, the film’s conspiracy plot is overcomplicated. The film continues to offer up red herrings and plot twists late into the movie but this is unnecessary and actually undermines the integrity of the story.

Bottom Line: White House Down is a fun action romp. It’s no classic and it is frequently absurd but it is very entertaining and the kind of film that makes for an enjoyable afternoon at the movies.

Episode: #447 (July 14, 2013)