By Laurie Coker
After the horribly disappointing Olympus Falling, the idea of seeing White House Down, starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx and a host of others, didn’t appeal to me. Along with two super-power headliners, director Roland Emmerich, as he is known to do, overloads his film with explosions, bullets, bad guys and cheesy banter, but not much more. The story – obviously – isn’t original and most certainly neither are the action sequences, chase scenes and characters, so White House Down lacks the punch the promo spots promise. Regardless, I can’t say I loathed it or its insane idealism.
Screenwriter James Vanderbilt, at a time when our government offers us so little for which to feel proud, gives us an optimistic, pie in the sky, make-believe and utterly implausible governmental body – one with a president who optimistically has an eye on peace and whose staff members cheerily love their jobs, where a little girl and her father can have merited faith in its democracy, where its citizens tour the White House in star-spangled awe and one where pride in government abounds – an ideal and wholly unrealistic place. Given the state of human affairs these days, Vanderbilt and Emmerich’s political realm is the epitome of absurdity. In spite of its apple pie, awe-shucks perfection and corniness, even this utopia of government has its “internal” demons, and ex-Marine turned Capitol cop, Cale (Tatam), soon finds himself face to face with those wanting to destroy this seemingly perfect world. Cale races to save his daughter (Joey King) and the president (Foxx), while the walls of our nation’s capital literally come crashing down.
Tatam and Fox are joined by Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Woods, and one of my favorite actors, Richard Jenkins, as well as other familiar faces. While Tatum has proven he can act, I personally find him even more talented when he performs, shirtless, but then I am a female with a pulse. Foxx puts in a decent enough turn as an Obama-like president, until that is; he begins dashing around the catacombs of the White House like an action hero. The chemistry between these two is nearly nonexistent; even if they have some of the films better lines (and trust me there are only a few). Neither really needs to act anyway, given Emmerich’s propensity for over-exaggerated action sequences.
Unfortunately, the time when “yippee ki yay” and an almost immortal hero can rouse the hearts of Americans has passed. Fifteen minutes watching headline news can disillusion the most patriotic person and strike sadness into even the most optimistic heart. It’s going to take more than a movie to restore our faith in our broken system of rule. Vanderbilt’s script alludes to us, Americans, housing our own worst enemies, and maybe he isn’t so far off, but it isn’t this that disappointed most me about the movie, it is just a movie after all. Emmerich relies on the most outlandish stunts, car chases (around the fountain on the White House lawn in limos, the president hanging out a side window with a missile-launcher), heat-seeking missiles downing Blackhawks inches from throngs of news media and National Guardsmen, and oh, the bullets – more fly in this than, and I am guessing, in many recent skirmishes.
Emmerich and Vanderbilt never slow down, giving us a final act that makes most action films’ (the Diehards, Olympus Falling, all the Lethal Weapons and so on) shootout finales appear mild – topping off an already ridiculous premise. And don’t get me started on their stupid and completely predictable plotline and payoff. However, even if it seems the contrary, White House Down, rated R, is not without any merit. Emmerich has created quite a spectacle, one that if for no other reason, allows us to laugh and talk about how White House Down is so bad, it’s good (to poke fun of). It’s not boring, and that is always a plus, and the cast, regardless of the asininity of the dialogue, plays hard. I am placing a C- in my grade book. All negatives aside, those who love Emmerich will continue to, well, love Emmerich’s work.