It was only three months ago that we sat through “Olympus Has Fallen,” the Gerard Butler action picture where terrorists took over the White House to make a future that matched their skewed ideologies. For all intents and purposes, this week’s “White House Down” is a remake of that film. It’s more humorous and it changes a few things around, but it’s essentially the same movie. A comparison of the two is inevitable and their different tones will split many audiences, half of who will favor the more violent, grittier nature of “Olympus Has Fallen” over the toned down cheese-fest presented here, but they both have their merits and work independently of each other, despite similar premises.
Cale (Channing Tatum) is an ex-soldier who served over in Afghanistan and is now working as a Capital police officer assigned to protecting Speaker of the House, Raphelson (Richard Jenkins). He’s divorced and has a young daughter named Emily (Joey King) who doesn’t particularly like him, but is stuck with him for the weekend. Despite her age, she’s a political junkie and blogger and is a big fan of the current President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx), so she’s thrilled when Cale tells her that they’re going to the White House and he’s going to be interviewed for a Secret Service position. Unfortunatley, he’s quickly rejected by Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal) due to his low school grades and unreliability, but before he even has time to process this, the White House is taken over by a group of mercenaries. He’s soon separated from his daughter, so he takes it upon himself to rescue not just her, but also the President and maybe even the country itself.
“White House Down” is a movie that’s so idiotic, it’s actually kind of enjoyable. That’s about the best outcome director Roland Emmerich, the man behind disasters like “10,000 BC,” “Godzilla” and “The Day After Tomorrow,” could have hoped for. His hackneyed approach to directing a movie, which includes his insistence on peppering humor throughout tonally dire moments, has made him a director to hate and with good reason. But given that the mostly straight faced and excessively violent “Olympus Has Fallen” has already delivered on the promise of a gritty White House invasion movie, Emmerich’s weaknesses become his strengths here. “White House Down” is so absurd, so monumentally silly, so preposterously ludicrous, that it proves itself to be wholly entertaining.
Every character in the film is a cliché or caricature and every moment is seemingly ripped from another movie. It mixes the action and humor of the “Lethal Weapon” movies with the concept and protagonist from “Die Hard” and the fearless, gung-ho president from “Air Force One.” One line, as the terrorists force Emily to tell Cale that they have a gun to her head, is even ripped shamelessly from that latter film. But in a weird way, combining all these elements, coupled with its drastic tonal shift from “Olympus Has Fallen,” gives it a unique identity, even as it (probably knowingly) rips dialogue from other movies.
President Sawyer is one of those presidents that doesn’t seem to have a single detractor, someone who makes everyone in the room smile when he walks in. He’s caring of others and puts them and the country above himself. He’s the type of guy who seems to constantly speak in “speech” and whose vocal tone can only be described as patriotic. The movie reinforces this by backing him with slowly swelling patriotic music nearly every time he begins to speak. It’s a manipulative ploy used by many amateurish filmmakers to manufacture the likability of their characters and it’s somewhat insulting to the discerning viewer, but in “White House Down,” it becomes just another dumb thing to laugh at.
And laughing is a big part of what makes the film so enjoyable. Despite the grave circumstances they’re in and the great loss of human life they’ve incurred during it, the film remains as goofy as can be. It’s not the intentionally placed jokes that work the most (though they do offer up the occasional guffaw); it’s the entire situation that is one can’t help but laugh at. A good example comes when the president loses his shoe in one scene and ends up in front of his closet in his room. Instead of grabbing the polished footwear one would expect a president to wear, he grabs his Air Jordans. While it admittedly makes sense given the situation (you’re going to need the flexibility of movement shoes like that will provide), it’s nevertheless endlessly amusing.
Even more amusing is the most worthless Secret Service agents ever assigned to guard a president. They hardly get any shots off at all as the terrorists pick them off one by one, tagging them all with one quick bullet to the head like they’re master arms men, that is unless they’re shooting at Cale or President Sawyer. Then it’s like they’ve been blindfolded and given a gun for the first time. This is standard action movie procedure, so it’s not so much a detriment to the film as it is a necessary element, yet the fact remains, this movie is blissfully stupid.
“White House Down” has stinted, inconsequential dialogue, complete with none-too-subtle foreshadowing bits (“It’s going to be a busy morning, boys,” the Speaker of the House says before everything goes to hell), and the CGI, particularly in the exterior scenes, is downright abysmal. Although fun, in terms of entertainment, it’s not quite as good as “Olympus Has Fallen.” The overrunning of the White House is a bit more believable here, but both are so outrageous that if you’re going to go for it, you might as well go all out. “White House Down” unfortunately plays it a bit closer to the chest than “Olympus Has Fallen,” no doubt to get that coveted PG-13 rating, but that doesn’t mean it’s without merit, even if in this case the merit is that it’s so bad, it’s good.
White House Down receives 2.5/5