In case you're wondering why you can't see Jamie Foxx's feet in the "White House Down" movie poster, it's because he's wearing Air Jordans.
To quote my favorite bad line from the film, Foxx's President James Sawyer tells a mercenary, "Get your hands off my Jordans!" It's done in a staccato fashion as he kicks the downed merc to make a point. It's supposed to be dramatic, but instead, it comes off as ridiculous.
That pretty much sums up "White House Down." Director Roland Emmerich attempts to mix a feel-good summer popcorn flick with touches of drama (as he had done with "Independence Day"), but he misses the mark by several miles. Dramatic lines are expressed in serious moments, but the screening audience guffawed. I lost count of the number of times I rolled my eyes and held my head in my hands.
President Sawyer is trying to broker an international world peace treaty, which would mean withdrawing troops and bringing them home. With extreme precision, a paramilitary group takes over the White House to kidnap the president. Capitol Police officer John Cale (Channing Tatum) is at the White House to interview for a job with the Secret Service, but it didn't go very well. He joins a tour with his 11-year-old political junkie daughter so the morning isn't a complete loss. Events transpire, and Cale becomes the best hope of rescuing the president from the bad guys.
"White House Down" is reminiscent of "Olympus Has Fallen," which was released in March, but although the two films have similar plots, "Olympus" manages to feel somewhat plausible while "White House Down" feels downright absurd. In "Olympus," Agent Banning was great at his job, but he took a desk job because he couldn't deal with the tragedy that had occurred under his watch. In "White House Down," Cale is there due to a combination of circumstances beyond his control, and he continually looks out of his element. "Olympus" was action-packed, brutal and gritty, and a dramatic tone permeated the film. "White House Down" plays out like a buddy cop movie that just happens to be set in the home of the president of the United States.
As for the production budget, "White House Down" cost twice as much ($150 million) as "Olympus" ($70 million). It would appear that the extra funds went to a bunch of Michael Bay-esque explosions and paying the all-star cast, which also includes Garcelle Beauvais, Jason Clarke, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Lance Reddick and James Woods.
In the first half of the movie, Foxx doesn't look very comfortable, but when the film devolves into buddy cop territory, he seems to be more in his element. I'm not sure if that's a good thing. Perhaps this is my personal baggage as a teen of the '90s, but each time the film cut to Foxx reciting a speech or speaking on a political talk show, I saw Wanda from "In Living Color" instead. It's not very presidential. Neither are some of the oversimplified lines that he uses to explain crime, peace and war. Screenwriter James Vanderbilt (yes, of the Vanderbilts) was clearly trying to dumb it down for us 'Muricans who weren't born with silver spoons in our mouths, but he overshot the landing. Any candidate who uttered those phrases and beliefs would've been laughed out of the primaries — and I'm talking local primaries, not ones at the state or federal level. But President Sawyer wears glasses, so that makes him a serious person.
On a side note, with a whole wide world of names out there, couldn't Vanderbilt have come up with a different name for the president? "Lost" isn't exactly a distant memory, so my mind also conjured up images of James "Sawyer" Ford (Josh Holloway) each time I heard the president's name.
Apparently my mind wandered a lot.
Tatum is believable as a guy who just stumbles into the chance to protect the leader of the free world. Then again, that seems to be how he came upon an acting career, so it's familiar territory for him. He gets the chance to run around in a wife beater and show off his arms, if that does it for you.
The movie could've definitely benefited from better editing. Shots lingered on some scenes overly long, as if they were going to be significant later on — but they weren't. There are scenes where one of the mercs speaks in a foreign language. Why? No one knows. Is it relevant later on? No. The bad guys should've been able to make an obvious connection sooner than they did, but apparently the same group of men who executed a precise military strike has trouble with basic English comprehension.
I stand by my conviction that "Olympus Has Fallen" is a vastly better film. "White House Down" has trouble deciding what it wants to be — a feel-good summer popcorn flick or a goofy buddy cop movie. This makes it feel very uneven, as dramatic scenes are often bookended by silly wisecracks. You may not mind too much if you surrender your brain at the door and enjoy the impressive explosions and effects, but if "White House Down" is remotely close to being your favorite movie, you've probably been lobotomized.
"White House Down" is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 11 minutes. It is being shown in 2-D.
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