White House Down

In yet another example of seperate Hollywood studios wheeling out the exact same concept to do battle like two hideously unoriginal Pokemon trainers, 2013 saw the release of a duo of action movies that had The White House get radical face lifts due to massive acts of terrorism.
First out of the gate was the noticably grim Olympus Has Fallen that piled it’s hopes and dreams upon Gerrard Butler’s shit eating smirk and a dollop of borderline racism which financially won out against the efforts of serial White House trasher Roland Emmerich as it bafflingly was awarded two more sequels. And yet, when it comes to filling the brief of simply being Die Hard in the White House (White Hard? Die House?), White House Down is arguably the better movie thank to the fact that it doubles down on something it’s D.C doppelganger simply doesn’t have – and I’m not talking about Channing Tatum’s killer guns…

John Cale is the typical kind of highly capable screw-up that normally featured in big budget movies at the time and while he potters along in a low level security detail in the nation’s capital he wants to apply himself and get a new job with the secret service keeping an eye on the controversial President James Sawyer. While Cale manages to get his daughter a tour of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to coincide with his job interview, Sawyer is trying to push through proposals to remove military forces from the Middle East and receiving noticable pushback from other countries. However, no push back is more severe than the group of domestic terrorists that have decided to storm the area, blow up the United States Capitol and lay siege to the White House, taking reams of hostages as they go thanks to a mystery traitor on the inside.
Thankfully avoiding the initial burst of terrorist shanagans, Cale manages to go to ground while his daughter is stranded in one of the building’s 35 bathrooms and starts to follow in the footsteps of the long list of action heroes who’s ever been in a Die Hard rip off before by commandeering an automatic weapon and picking off bad guys with equal amounts of bullets and quips. Freeing President Sawyer, who immediately pulls on a pair of Jordan’s and forges a charismatic double act that involves climbing around lift shafts, tearing around the grounds in the bulletproof, Presidential limo and sending any insurgents they find to that big terrorist bazaar in the sky. However, time is running out and while the powers that be are trying to shove the weak willed Vice President toward launch a full scale attack to level the titular building before the invading wrong un’s get hold of nuclear launch codes. Can Cole save his commander in chief, his daughter and America in general why still avoiding Bruce Willis’ lawyers thanks to his choice in vest wear?

While White House Down hardly breaks the mold when it comes to location heavy terrorist whupping, it’s main take away from John McClane’s 1988, Christmas-set, miracle is that despite the fact that maniacal men are holding terrified people captive in the President’s residence, it actual tries to be fun while it does it. Yes, when people think Die Hard they think of guys getting shot in the dick through a table and Bruce Willis getting a broken glass foot massage, but director John McTiernan also made sure that a glib lightness kept things from getting too heavy while kneecaps where getting blown off, such as the banter between Special Agents Johnson and Johnson (no relation) and Beethoven’s Ode To Joy famously playing over the vault break. Now, admittedly White House Down doesn’t maintain the balance anywhere near as delicately but at least there’s no massively uncomfortable scene where the bad guys beat on a woman for seemingly an eternity in order to get a password from her while Aaron Eckhart helplessly watches like Olympus Has Fallen does…
A lot of the aforementioned glibness comes from lead Channing Tatum who, compared to his rather sullen turn in G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra, seems to finally be enjoying himself immensely while suspiciously playing his amiable hero much like he does in Magic Mike XXL. It works just enough to not be annoying (say like, Tayor Kitch in Battleship) and his lead is taken up by Jamie Foxx, who plays his POTUS so laid back, he makes Obama look like he sweats like Richard Nixon – if I’m being honest, neither performance smacks of authenticity, but then hard edged realism isn’t really this movie’s aim.
However, trying to be Die Hard with the added banter of Lethal Weapon (or just plain Die Hard if Sergeant Al Powell had got into the action much earlier), isn’t going to amount to stuff if the action isn’t up to snuff and Emmerich does ok when stripped of his usual natural disasters (he did direct Universal Soldier, after all…) although a lot of his bigger scenes such as an attack on Air Force One and a bulletproof car chase around the grounds are marred by some truly abysmal CGI and green screen work and none of the fights are particularly that memorable.
That might have something to do with the fact that the villains aren’t that memorable either with Jason Clarke’s ex-Delta Force operative coming over as fairly vanilla in a sub-genre where Alan Rickman, Tommy Lee Jones and Powers Boothe have all recklessly and shamelessly attempted to steal the show. Also, some of the good natured vibe of the film has kind of retroactively evaporated after the 2021 inauguration week protests saw weirdly similar scenes of angry Trump supporters storming the capital and some of the movie’s characters feel a little close for comfort.
With all that being said, White House Down rallies it’s blowout supporting cast (Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Woods, Richard Jenkins, Lance Reddick and Michael Murphy) into being a fun, perky actioner that despite lacking any originality (it also borrows from The Rock quite liberally), a unique concept (Air Force One beat this and Olympus Has Fallen to the punch well over a decade ago) and having all the gravitas of a bowl of soup; it still ends up being an enjoyable, throwaway romp that’s enfused with oddly sweet positive vibes even as the White House burns.

I may be way off with this (my political musings aren’t exactly my strong point) but would I be mistaken if I suggested that both White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen are politically left and right versions of the exact same movie? I’d try to dive into that subject more, but neither are strictly good enough to care about that much…
A goofy, up-beat romp that sees Magic Mike and President Django teaming up to make a film about domestic terrorism that isn’t a downer, White House Down is nevertheless a fun way to blow two hours that makes an utter state of the union…

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