Saturday, June 15, 2013

White House Down Review

Rated PG-13 (Prolonged Sequences of Action and Violence including Intense Gunfire and Explosions, Some Language and a Brief Sexual Image)

Running Time: 2 Hours & 17 Minutes

Channing Tatum-John Cale
Jamie Foxx-President James Sawyer
Joey King-Emily Cale
Maggie Gyllenhaal-Secret Service Director Carol Finnerty
Richard Jenkins-Speaker of the House Eli Raphelson
Jason Clarke-Emil Stenz
James Woods-Martin Walker
Jimmi Simpson-Tyler
Nicolas Wright-Donnie Donaldson
Rachelle Lefevre-Melanie Cale
Lance Reddick-General Caulfield
Michael Murphy-Vice President Alvin Hammond
Garcelle Beauvais-First Lady Alison Sawyer
Andrew Simms-Roger Skinner
Jackie Geary-Jenna

Directed by Roland Emmerich

President Obama, is that you?
Note: Screened on Thursday, June 13, 2013 at Regal Union Square Stadium 14.

Channing Tatum has certainly come a long way from his days as male stripper 'Chan Crawford.' The former model-turned-actor/producer didn't exactly make the best impression when I first saw him back in 2009's "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" (I have not seen "Step Up" nor any of its sequels), where I described him as 'a macho-man cardboard cutout.' What a difference three years makes as 2012 proved to be a banner year for Tatum, with "The Vow," "21 Jump Street," and "Magic Mike" all grossing over $100 million. Hoping to continue his leading-man hot streak, Tatum once again flexes his muscles in the action genre in Roland Emmerich's "White House Down," which also stars Jamie Foxx. The film focuses on a paramilitary group who take over the White House and…wait a minute, doesn't this all sound really familiar? Yes, it does because March's "Olympus Has Fallen" featured the exact same premise! This isn't the first time something like this has happened as last year saw the release of two Snow White films, Tarsem Singh's "Mirror Mirror" and Rupert Sanders' "Snow White and the Huntsman." What's really ironic is that both the scripts for "Olympus Has Fallen" and "White House Down" were purchased by their respective studios around the same time. I found Antoine Fuqua's film to be a rather mind-numbing experience and I didn't really have high expectations for Emmerich's version either. Well, color me surprised because "White House Down" turned out to be better than I hoped it would be. Although overlong and downright silly, Emmerich's film manages to deliver as a dumb but fun summer action flick thanks to the enjoyable interplay between its two leads.

U.S. Capitol Police Officer John Cale (Channing Tatum) spends his nights protecting House of Representatives Speaker Eli Raphelson (Richard Jenkins) but dreams of becoming a Secret Service agent assigned to the Presidential Detail. He manages to sweet-talk a White House aide named Jenna (Jackie Geary) into pulling some strings and successfully lands an interview with Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal), the Director of the U.S. Secret Service. Unfortunately, Cale's application is rejected due to his problems with authority and lack of responsibility. Not wanting to disappoint his estranged daughter Emily (Joey King), he lies that he 'has a shot' at getting the job. On a whim, Cale takes Emily on a tour of the White House as she is an avid follower of American politics but their visit couldn't have come at a worse time. A paramilitary group led by ruthless mercenary Emil Stenz (Jason Clarke) infiltrates and takes over the White House, with President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) held hostage by veteran Presidential Detail leader Martin Walker (James Woods), who has turned traitor. Emily is separated from the tour group during the chaotic attack, forcing Cale to battle his way through the terrorists in order to save his daughter and the Chief Executive.

If "Die Hard with a Vengeance" and "Air Force One" got married and had a baby, it would look a lot like Roland Emmerich's "White House Down." The film is essentially a throwback to the blockbuster action pictures of the late 1980s and 1990s, and once again, Emmerich displays his penchant for blowing up American landmarks, particularly the White House (this marks his third time but who's counting?). Given how similar they are, it's inevitable that comparisons to "Olympus Has Fallen" will be made but at least Emmerich tries to create a sense of plausibility by having the terrorists (who are surprisingly not foreigners in a nice change of pace) utilize an 'inside man' within the Secret Service rather than resorting to an unbelievable brute force attack. Of course, there are some eye-rolling moments, such as when a hacker breaks through the U.S. firewall by literally pressing the number keys one through nine while listening to Beethoven. James Vanderbilt's script takes quite a number of cues from John McTiernan's "Die Hard," such as setting the action in one location and giving the main hero a strained relationship with one of his family members. Of course, that family member eventually gets taken hostage, providing the hero with the necessary motivation and emotional attachment from the audience to make the film work. In that regard, the story is rather derivative and delivers very few surprises but the material is thankfully elevated by the buddy chemistry between Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx. The two actors are clearly having fun in their roles and what makes this film better than Antoine Fuqua's is that it doesn't take itself too seriously. Their banter is reminiscent of Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson in "Die Hard with a Vengeance," only they're not at each other's throats all the time. Presidents are often depicted as either very stoic or very solemn in Hollywood films but Foxx behaves unlike any President I've seen and I have to say, I enjoyed it. This guy's running around kicking terrorists in the face with his Air Jordan's and even wields a rocket launcher at one point during one of the film's most ridiculous action scene set on the White House lawn! It's all appropriately cheesy and I mean this in the best possible way.

Vanderbilt's script may be nothing more than a hodgepodge of action movie clichés from the 90s but his economical approach to storytelling does ensure that no line of dialogue is wasted. When a White House tour guide mentions a seemingly frivolous factoid about the historic building, it actually sets up a plot element that later comes into play, lending the film a logical consistency even if it is far from what we would call reality. Emmerich's tight handle on the action and where each set-piece takes place creates a nice sense of flow, which is helped by the accurate recreation of the White House by set designers Marie-Soleil Dénommé and Paul Hotte. Unfortunately, the action scenes, particularly the various shootouts that Cale finds himself in, are rather generic. They're competently staged but ultimately aren't all that imaginative, with the violence all bloodless due to its PG-13 rating. Emmerich is clearly more at home when he's destroying something, like demolishing Capitol Hill or firing a nuke at Air Force One. The various visual effects are good, if somewhat behind the curve for a film budgeted at $150 million, although we also have to take into account that it's only fourteen months from script to release. I'm frankly amazed it's coming out so soon!

A film like "White House Down" isn't really meant to showcase one's acting abilities but the performances here are more than satisfactory thanks to the talented cast Emmerich has assembled. Channing Tatum looks credible as an action hero and shares an excellent rapport with Jamie Foxx. The way they play off each other keeps the film light and fun despite the often dark subject matter. Although relegated to sitting behind a computer screen at the Pentagon (or a facsimile of it), Maggie Gyllenhaal and Richard Jenkins manage to lend some weight to their roles and prevent the tension from deflating. Jason Clarke snarls for the camera as vengeful mercenary Emil Stenz while James Woods pretty much chews the scenery as Secret Service agent-turned-traitor Martin Walker. However, it is thirteen-year-old Joey King that makes the most memorable impression as she adds a human face to the film and keeps it from being overwhelmed by all the action and silly banter.

"White House Down" won't be released until June 28, 2013, which makes this one of the first reviews you'll read on the film. Columbia Pictures/Sony had just started screening it this past week and the initial buzz has been positive, with many calling it a fun summer popcorn movie. Critics aren't exactly the biggest fans of Roland Emmerich but it's likely this film will land just slightly on the positive side at 60% on Rotten Tomatoes. It surely can't be worse than 2008's "10,000 B.C." or even "Godzilla." Box office wise, it's competing with Paul Feig's buddy cop comedy "The Heat" and although both are action films featuring buddy elements, they're fortunately aimed at different demographics, which will prevent them from cannibalizing each other. A final tally of $100 million is already a given for "White House Down" and it should turn a solid profit once worldwide grosses are factored in. Sometimes you just want to sit down and watch a film where you don't have to think too much, and thankfully Emmerich's latest more than fits that bill. You could definitely do a lot worse than this film.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5

"Ow! Could you not hit me in the head with a rocket while I'm trying to drive?!"