White House Down – A Review

Go into a dark room. Put on some soothing music, whether it is something New Age or Gregorian monks chanting. Close your eyes and relax your body. Repeat your mantra and feel your worries and troubles melt away. Go deeper and completely clear your mind of everything. You may have just reached a true state of Nirvana.

You are also now ready to watch White House Down, a movie that requires your mind to be a complete blank slate for you to truly enjoy. Because if you have not emptied your head of logic and reasonable thought, you’re just not going to be able to enjoy this movie. You will be far too bogged down by the preposterousness of the plot, the terrible dialogue and the overall ridiculousness of what you are witnessing.  White House Down is a really dumbed down version of Die Hard.

White House Down is the second movie this year that features the White House in peril (Olympus Has Fallen is the other) and is brought to you by Roland Emmerich, the guy who destroyed the White House over a decade ago in Independence Day. You get the sense while watching White House Down that Emmerich really is simply doing a second draft of the obliteration of the Oval Office and correcting whatever he felt he didn’t do right in Independence Day using the more advanced CGI technology that is now available.

The plot of White House Down is both straight forward and confusing – Channing Tatum stars as a Capitol policeman who is at the White House interviewing for a Secret Service job, a job he covets in order to impress his estranged 11 year old daughter who is obsessed with the White House and the president. While he and his daughter are on a White House tour, America’s most famous house is taken hostage. In his search for his daughter, Tatum comes across President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx), who’s security detail has been killed. Tatum must now protect the president while also trying to find his missing child. Millions of dollars in property damage follows. Maggie Gyllenhaal runs around looking pensive; Jason Clarke sneers. Even after sitting through the movie, I couldn’t give you a coherent motive as to why the White House was taken; that’s not to say that they don’t offer up some explanation – it just simply is so muddles and complicated that it really made no sense.

I’ll give credit where credit is due – there are some cool looking action sequences and explosions in the film. Tatum is a more than serviceable action star, though I think that route would be a waste of his abilities. I’d much prefer to see him in serious dramas and comedies; if you read my review of 21 Jump Street you may remember that I am new to the Channing Tatum appreciation society, but he has impressed me with his last few movies. He is one of the few things that make White House Down really watchable, but he is capable of more than this movie (and don’t even get me started on how Jason Clarke is wasted). But he does make for a convincing invincible guy with a guy.

I’m not the world’s biggest Jamie Foxx fan – confidence and swagger can be good qualities to have, but I feel like he has just a bit too much of it and that some of it is undeserved. I won’t begrudge him that he was great in Ray, but giving him an Oscar has only heightened his annoyance factor to me. I actually didn’t mind him too much in White House Down; he did his best Obama (right down to the Nicorette gum) and played a pretty subdued president who mostly spouts out idealism and needs to be saved. He gets a few moments to be a tough guy, but mostly he is a guy in need of rescue. That part is at least a little bit realistic – I don’t know that any of our presidents would feel particularly comfortable suddenly picking up a rocket launcher (well – maybe Teddy Roosevelt; he was kind of a bad ass).

The dialogue in this movie is pretty tough to overcome; almost everything said is more exposition than conversation. People give a lot of unnecessary background information in a way that doesn’t feel at all organic. Upon meeting Tatum, President Sawyer immediately divulges a lot of info as to what he thinks in going on before he even find out who Tatum is or his name. The irony is where this kind of explanation is most needed are the scenes where it doesn’t occur; the movie is at its vaguest in the moments that require the most clarity and detail. The film also tries far too hard to be clever; one-liners are unfortunately a common component of action films these days, but White House Down tries to force them down your throat. Having the President of the United State say, as he is being attacked, “Keep your hands off my Air Jordans” is so ridiculous that it makes my head hurt. Almost every word feels calculated, either to force a laugh or explain what is happening and fill in the plot holes. White House Down does not subscribe to the old maxim “show, don’t tell” unless it applies to the wonton annihilation of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Then it is all in.

I understand that action films are full of plot holes and that some level of suspended reality is just a part of the genre. The problem with White House Down is that these qualities completely overpower the movie. Unless you shut your brain off, you will be far too distracted by the questions that the movie raises rather than the action on screen. How is there cell service during a terrorist attack? Why are civilians allowed to surround the White House while its occupants are being held hostage? How does the President seemingly have no staff? How are there endless weapons and ammunition scattered throughout the White House? How are the elevators in the White House still running after an attack? If you start pondering any of these issues, you are down the rationality rabbit hole and putting a level of scrutiny on this movie that it cannot withstand. I found that it was only when I simply gave up and just accepted whatever they told me that I enjoyed this film a lot more. I had to beat any inkling of “wait – this makes no sense” out of my brain. In short, once I gave myself over completely to White House Down, I had a much more enjoyable experience.

Some other thoughts:

  • I have been on the White House tour and I can assure you, you aren’t allowed to just wander off at any point. If you have to go to the bathroom, you best take care of business before the tour starts.
  • I couldn’t figure out where I recognized the actress that plays Tatum’s daughter from until I took a peek at IMDB. Among other things, she was the voice of China Doll in Oz the Great and Powerful.
  • For those of you that are interested in such things – it takes about an hour for Channing Tatum to strip down to his white tank top and approximately another hour for him to have a fight scene while sprinklers rain water down on him. You’re welcome.
  • Tatum’s Secret Service job interview amounted to “I knew you in college before you dropped out and your marriage failed. Therefore you don’t see things through and are unreliable. Good day.” I’m fairly certain that violated some sort of Federal law, but whatever.
  • While watching White House Down, I was reminded of my favorite quote from Wayne’s World (a movie I saw so many times I could once recite basically from memory):  “Aren’t we lucky we were there to get that information? It seemed extraneous at the time.” There is no extraneous info in this movie; if it seems like a useless tidbit, it isn’t.
  • The actor who plays the computer hacker (Jimmi Simpson) is familiar to me from his appearances on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia as one of the McPoyle’s, but he also reminded me of Alexander Skarsgard in a recent episode of True Blood:

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  • To his credit, Simpson is the only person in White House Down that realizes a little camp in his performance is a good thing.
  • If nothing else, White House Down gives the American public a little refresher course on the presidential line of succession and the 25th Amendment.
  • Based on the reaction of my fellow theater goers to the trailer for Machete Kills, they are unaware that it is the sequel to Machete, which itself was the expansion of a fake trailer from Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse. The consensus I heard was “what the f*$k was that?” Amateurs.
  • Funniest thing overheard at the theater – after a trailer for the new Leonardo DiCaprio movie The Wolf of Wall Street someone behind me uttered “that is a total white guy movie.” Curious as to who said it, I turned around to see – a bunch of white guys. So I’m not really sure what that comment was supposed to mean. It reminded me of this Lewis Black joke.
  • If seeing a gun repeatedly put to a child’s head is upsetting to you, you might want to skip this film. Kids are in peril fairly frequently.
  • There is absolutely no way that this movie should be as long as it is; it has no business have a run time of over two hours.
  • Fallon is on vacation this week, giving me the opportunity to check in on what Kimmel is up to. This proposed sequel to White House Down is pretty funny:

Tatum is a good sport. Long live Waffle House!

White House Down is a ridiculous movie; there are a few semi-interesting action sequences but there are few too many distracting plot holes and coincidences within the story that prevent this film from being very good. Tatum does his best action hero impersonation and is fun to watch, but unless you can turn off your brain’s logical thought process for two hours you will find yourself focusing on the many problems with the film rather than the events unfolding on screen. White House Down isn’t completely dreadful, but it is mindless entertainment at its core. In the words of the musical group En Vogue, when it comes to White House Down “free your mind and the rest will follow.”

White House Down opens nationwide today.

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