Review: “White House Down” has identity crisis

June 28th, 2013 at 12:18 am by under Entertainment
"White House Down" poster courtesy Columbia Pictures

“White House Down” poster courtesy Columbia Pictures

“White House Down” (2013)
Rated: PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action and violence including intense gunfire and explosions, some language and a brief sexual image
Runtime: 2 hours, 11 minutes
Genre: Action/Thriller

My spoiler-free review:

“White House Down” is an action movie.  And a buddy comedy.  And a disaster movie.

This is one of the movie’s many problems: its disjointed pieces to the larger puzzle – that often seem like they are vignettes by different directors with different tone and style – some of them are good, some of them are not.  I give it 5.5 out of 10 … it may be fun, but its quite unbelievable and over-the-top throughout.

This is the less gritty and more exaggerated version of the White House under attack plot movies of 2013… its natural to compare it to the superior “Olympus Has Fallen”  (released in March).  This may be more fun, inspiring, funnier, less terrorizing, and PG13, but “White House Down” misses on many points.

The one thing “White House Down” got right is the chemistry between its two leading men, Channing Tatum (John Cale) and Jamie Foxx (President Sawyer)… the scenes they share are the best in the film – whether its a serious guys being tough moment, or a moment of comic relief – both are excelling and feeding off of each other’s strengths.

While this is a typical Roland Emmerich disaster movie – big explosions, big action sequences, a focus on a small group of characters struggling through a crisis situation, emotional moments to bond the characters/audience.   But it could have been better.  This is more in the category of “2012″ (2009) or “Godzilla” (1998)… and not “The Day After Tomorrow” (2004) or “Independence Day” (1996).  It takes about 30 minutes to get into the action in “White House Down”… which is way too long for a 2 hour+ movie.  The first third of the movie was okay, the 2nd third was actually pretty good as our main characters are trying to survive/solve the crisis, but the last 3rd was just too much over-the-top and predictable that it disconnected me from the movie.

There is a lot of character back story – which I will credit as attempts at depth, but it doesn’t feel like character development, because the acting doesn’t always feel genuine except when its veteran actors Richard Jenkins and James Woods convincing us with their casually slick performances or the lesser known Nicolas Wright and Jimmi Simpson totally devoted to their characters.  Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Joey King, Michael Murphy, Rachelle Lefevre, Lance Reddick, Garcelle Beauvais are either trying to hard or just completely miscast in their roles.

And there’s a problem with red herrings vs. foreshadowing: red herrings are classic movie devices used to trick the audience – put in there to make you think one thing, when something else is really going on… BUT in “White House Down”, we get foreshadowing – all the little small details that you pick up on… are just pointed out as a reminder for later in the movie when something is revealed.  Here, you think: “yep, that makes sense because of that thing earlier in the movie” – instead of what it could be: “wow, I thought they were going to do this, but instead they went this way with the movie“… which could have upped the stakes a little in “White House Down”.  There’s no tricks, no major twists based on these little detail Easter eggs planted throughout the movie… they are exactly what they are, no disguises.

Although he seemed to do his homework on White House and military stuff, much of it is unbelievable anyway – like main characters avoiding tons of gunfire just by running and diving – like John Rambo … or how all the bad guys are perfect shots (most of the time) and the good guys can barely hit the broadside of a barn.  The police and the media are made out to be dumb and/or over-the-top, its insulting.  There are several moments where the dialogue is just ridiculous statements and/or observations from the supporting cast/extras that were not necessary.  Some examples: reporter says “U.S. Special Forces are flying over us” as military helicopters fly over head and a Special Forces commander observes from 50+ feet away that Cale (Tatum) “is a friendly” and they should stop shooting at him.

Ultimately, its a cute little buddy action comedy set in a D.C. under siege movie… with many elements of a similar plotted “Olympus Has Fallen” which came out two months ago.   Wait to rent it this one… so you can pause, shake your head, and then hit play when you’re ready to continue.

MORE INFO (possible spoilers):

“White House Down” 

Cast: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Richard Jenkins, Joey King, James Woods, Nicolas Wright, Jimmi Simpson, Michael Murphy, Rachelle Lefevre, Lance Reddick, Garcelle Beauvais

Director: Roland Emmerich  ["2012" (2009), "10,000 BC" (2008), "The Day After Tomorrow" (2004), "The Patriot"  (2000), "Godzilla" (1998), "Independence Day" (1996), "Stargate" (1994), "Universal Soldier" (1992)]

Writer: James Vanderbilt

The Plot: While on a tour of the White House with his young daughter, a Capitol policeman springs into action to save his child and protect the president from a heavily armed group of paramilitary invaders.

So what did you think?  Please post a comment!

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