Film review: WHITE HOUSE DOWN, from Built For Speed

Earlier in the year we were treated to Olympus Has Fallen, an outrageously silly exercise in warped patriotism and gun worship in which Gerard Butler‘s former secret service agent single-handedly repelled a terrorist attack and saved the US President following a White House invasion.  It was Die Hard in the White House and a film in which any connection to reality was entirely co-incidental.   There was only one way to make a more ridiculous film than Olympus and that was to clone it, have Roland Emmerich direct it and slot the disturbingly ubiquitous Channing Tatum into the lead role.  The result is an utterly preposterous film that gleefully indulges every action movie cliché and right-wing fantasy to the point of having a peace-loving, intellectual US President toss away his beliefs and start machine gunning people.  It’s a loud stupid, mess of a film that’s so ludicrous it actually falls into the “so bad its good” category.

Tatum plays Capitol Policeman John Cale (I’m sure the late singer would be ecstatic) who escorts the speaker of the US House of Representatives (Richard Jenkins) to the US capitol each morning.  In accordance with action movie formula, Tatum is a former war hero and a divorced Father whose wife (Rachel Lefevre) thinks he’s an irresponsible jerk and who’s daughter Emily (Joey King) despises him.   As his daughter is a typical politics-obsessed 11-year-old, Cale sees an opportunity to reconnect with her by taking her to the White House for a tour while he attends a secret service job interview.  When  terrorists led by maniacal mercenary Stenz (Australia’s Jason Clarke), take the tour-group hostage and attempt to capture the US President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx), Cale has the chance to prove his wares as a one man killing machine.

White House Down starts in reasonably sedate fashion as it introduces an ensemble cast in the style typical of disaster movies.  The initial phase of the terrorist attack – a covert infiltration by mercenaries dressed as tradesmen – is unspectacular compared with the astonishing helicopter invasion in Olympus Has Fallen.  Soon, however, the bodies pile up, the CGI explosions get bigger (and less convincing), the dialogue becomes increasingly inane and the terrorist plot grows from a simple cash grab to a Bond villain type quest for global annihilation.  White House Down jumps the shark about half way through and keeps getting sillier from there.

What would a lame-brain action movie be without an indestructible hero and here no amount of bullets, rockets or Black Hawk helicopters can so much as scratch Mr Tatum.  The crack shot terrorists seem to be able to pick off everyone else without aiming but they can’t hit Tatum when he’s virtually leaning against their gun muzzles.  Although his character’s ability to escape death is laughably implausible, Tatum at least has the physicality to make the action scenes dynamic.

The film attempts to forge a Lethal Weapon style camaraderie between Cale and President Sawyer as they sneak through the labyrinth of White House corridors and secret rooms trying to outwit the pursuing villains. Unfortunately, their heroic odd-couple routine never has the necessary chemistry.  The main problem is that every time Tatum attempts to speak, he transforms into the bland, monolithic himbo goofball that has made him an unintentional comic icon.  Cale is, however, more likeable than Butler’s gleefully sadistic throat stabbing monster in Olympus has Fallen.

The name supporting cast which also includes Richard Jenkins, Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Woods (once again playing a borderline nut) desperately try to add some acting gravitas to this film but end up sucked into its vortex of military fetishism, steroid-fuelled patriotism and cheap humour.

While it’s pleasing to see fine Aussie actor Jason Clarke in big budget roles there’s little hope of him or anyone else delivering a noteworthy performance in a live action video game like this. All his mercenary underlings are comical clichés including a scenery-chomping white-supremacist who could have come from an Arnie or a Chuck Norris film from the 1980’s.

White House Down is a cinematic monstrosity but a lovably stupid one that has a wink at the audience and fortunately doesn’t leave the same nasty taste in the mouth as the equally ludicrous films of Michael Bay.  The best that can be said about White House Down is that it’s amusingly stupid, occasionally exciting and not completely repulsive.


Nick’s rating:  Two stars.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Roland Emmerich.

Release date: 5th Sept 2013

Running time: 131 mins.


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