White House Down

Posted June 28, 2013 by in


Total Score

1/ 5

Quick Stats

Genre: action
Director: Roland Emmerich
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Actors: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, James Woods, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Length: 131 minutes
Release Date: 6/28/2013
Studio: Mythology Entertainment (II), Centropolis Entertainment, Iron Horse Entertainment (II)
What We Thought

A watered-down, absurdist vision of Die Hard.

by Daniel Hodgson
Full Article
Two men running in circles, one chasing the other, is a silly image.  It’s the kind of image that immediately brings to mind the Benny Hill theme song.  Now picture the same thing, but with two cars, one of which has the President of the United States in it, being chased by a van full of terrorists on the White House lawn.  Now picture  the Commander-in-Chief sticking his head out the car window and firing a bazooka.  White House Down is an absurdist film marketed as a summer-blockbuster.
     White House Down would be paying homage to Die Hard if it weren’t so ludicrous.  Channing Tatum plays John McClane, called “John Cale” here.  Joey King plays his daughter, substituting for Mrs. McClane.  Her function is to deliver exposition and get captured by bad guys.  James Woods is Martin Walker, a poor man’s Hans Gruber.  The baddies employ a hacker with an appreciation for Beethoven’s 5th, nodding to Die Hard’s use of his 9th symphony.  Elevators shafts are shimmied up, helicopters are blown up.
     As with a typical Roland Emmerich movie, lots of things blow up in White House Down.  But Roland Emmerich is no John McTiernan, lacking his pacing, and deft hand with both comedic and dramatic scenes, and his ability to build tension and suspense.  The tone goes from self-seriousness in control room scenes that dump exposition, to campy in scenes where the President puts his glasses on so he can aim a machine gun.  He banters, quips, and delivers action movie one-liners, and meanwhile, the codes to the U.S. nuclear arsenal float between owners, leaving the fate of the world hanging in the balance.  And we already saw almost this exact same thing only three months ago.
     Olympus Has Fallen got here first.  It was derivative, grim, and preposterous, but one thing it wasn’t was watered-down.  That the plot of White House Down is convoluted is a detraction, but beside the point; audiences watch this kind of thing for the action.  However, the violence in White House Down is sanitized, so the studio can make big bucks on parents foolish enough to bring their kids to a movie where the President of the United States says “fuck you” to a baddie shortly before stabbing him with a pen (both of which are permissible under the MPAA’s current guidelines for a PG-13 movie).  The logic here is that it’s ok to show people dying as long as they don’t show people bleeding.  The problem is that it doesn’t make it any better, and defeats the purpose.  Action movies are meant to provide all of the excitement of the Colosseum for adults, but without any of the guilt, since we know the carnage isn’t real.  If a movie is meant to be kid-friendly, why not just make a cartoon?
     I face-palmed through much of White House Down.  This can’t be happening, I told myself.  It is poorly done, has nothing to say, and wastes the time and talent of Maggie Gyllanhaal, Richard Jenkins, and Jamie Foxx, all of them Oscar-nominated actors (Foxx a winner at that).   I thought Olympus Has Fallen was bad.  This is worse.

About the Author

Daniel Hodgson

Daniel has a degree in film from the University of Texas at Austin, and writes about himself in the third-person, because that's the fashion.


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