Synopsis: 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.
White House Down, the latest attempt by German purveyor of destruction Roland Emmerich to destroy the World’s most iconic residence, was a victim of unfortunate timing. Released shortly after the ultimately interchangeable Gerard Butler action thriller Olympus Has Fallen, WHD was a box office bomb with those who had already seen The Butt (trademarking that) commando roll his way to box office gold understandably not willing to fork out again to see Channing Tatum do the same such a short while after. It was their loss with White House Down far and away the more enjoyable and joyful experience.
Now, I understand it’s like asking, what has more nutritional value; a Twinkie or a HoHo? Neither are going to leave you feeling fulfilled for more than 10 minutes after you’ve consumed them and you immediately feel guilty for devouring them in the first place. That said, WHD succeeds in trying to recapture the magic of the late 80’s/early 90’s golden age of action movies, where Olympus Has Fallen failed. Most notably in playing the whole thing start to finish tongue firmly in a well greased and explosion kissed cheek.
In similar fashion to Olympus Has Fallen, the hero of WHD is a down on his luck cop with something to prove who, through a series of improbably easy acts of terrorism aimed at the world’s most iconic seat of power, is given a shot at redemption. In this instance it’s the far more likeable and charismatic Channing Tatum, whom I have come to sincerely love in recent years with a string of self deprecating and sincere performances belying his pretty boy looks, rather than the dour, dull Scotsman, who is trying to assert himself as the modern day John McClane (I don’t count any Die Hard movies past 3 as part of the series). Even down to the seemingly bullet proof protagonist ending up in a grubby white vest.
Ultimately where WHD trumps Olympus Has Fallen though, and I never thought I’d say this about a Roland Emmerich film, is the characterisation. While they may not be multi layered and complex on a David Mamet level, you at least have a sense of why each person is motivated to take such extraordinary lengths to achieve their aims outside of just being “bad guys”. James Woods brings a certain gravitas to antagonist (mild spoiler) Walker, an embittered senior Secret Service Agent. And while by the third act his end game seems far to removed from the catalyst of his rage to ring true, there is enough humanity in his motivations to make him more than just a cookie cutter terrorist. Jason Clarke, a Hooray For Movies favourite, continues to bolster his Hollywood credentials and delivers his mercenary performance with a grounded, cold hearted venom. Richard Jenkins is ultimately underused, but given Morgan Freeman played his role in Olympus Has Fallen he can be forgiven for taking a paycheck. Similarly for Maggie Gyllenhaal who you imagine must have only taken her role for the money.
Action films though live and die by their heroes and for the first two acts Tatum and Foxx are an engaging and humorous partnership, sparking memories of Willis and Wayans in The Last Boy Scout. Whereas Olympus Has Fallen took itself far too seriously, with little humour or relief, WHD recognises the tried and tested formula that worked so well 20 years ago. Unfortunately, it loses sight of this at around the 1 hour 40 mark and the last 30 minutes are a bit of a trudge with one predictable set piece after another followed by some truly terrible one liners that felt forced. Also the CGI at times was astonishingly amateurish given the budget and weight of talent behind it. In spite of all of this though, it remains the better of the two White House destruction movies that hit cinemas in 2013 and is certainly the one to watch if you’re going to dedicate two hours of your life to either.
Conclusion:.By the numbers, and falters badly in the final third with a conclusion that is as ridiculous as you would expect from an Emmerich flick. That said, the charisma and chemistry of it’s leads combined with it’s sense of humour means that is the superior White House based action thriller of 2013
Cast: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Richard Jenkins, James Woods, Jason Clarke, Maggie Gyellenhaal