‘White House Down’ an epic fail on every measure
BY RICHARD ROEPER SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST June 27, 2013 12:42PM
‘WHITE HOUSE DOWN’
President Sawyer Jamie Foxx
John Cale Channing Tatum
Martin Walker James Woods
Carol Maggie Gyllenhaal
Eli Raphelson Richard Jenkins
Emil Stenz Jason Clarke
Hammond Michael Murphy
Emily Joey King
Columbia Pictures presents a film directed by Roland Emmerich. Written by James Vanderbilt. Running time: 137 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for prolonged sequences of action and violence including intense gunfire and explosions, some language and a brief sexual image). Opening Friday at local theaters.
Updated: July 30, 2013 6:05AM
Everyone in “White House Down” is an idiot, clinically insane, a cliché or a vehicle for shameless exploitation.
Some characters go for the combo platter. For example, one guy’s an idiot and insane.
Just three months after the release of “Olympus Has Fallen,” with Gerard Butler as a former Army Ranger with a checkered past who must singlehandedly save the White House from a terrorist attack, we get Channing Tatum as a veteran with a checkered past who must singlehandedly ... you know.
“Olympus Has Fallen” was a decidedly mediocre film. And yet it’s “The Manchurian Candidate” meets the original “Die Hard” meets “In the Line of Fire” compared to this cartoonish, offensive, overblown, clanging, steaming piece of ... cinema.
Let’s see who’s all here.
We’ve got Jamie Foxx as President Sawyer, the peace-loving, Jordan sneakers-wearing, Nicorette-chewing POTUS intent on withdrawing all troops from the Middle East, to the dismay of many special interests. (“You ever heard of the military-industrial complex?” he says at one point. No, never. Tell us more, Mr. President!) POTUS always carries a gold pocket watch that Mary Todd Lincoln once gave to Abraham Lincoln to remind him he only had so much time to make a difference. We’re told this was a present from the first lady, who must have found it on e-Bay or something.
Channing Tatum is Cale, a Capitol-area police officer who dreams of becoming Secret Service. Joey King is his 11-year-old daughter Emily, a precocious political junkie who of course resents her father because he’s never around. He just missed the school talent show! Divorced dads in movies NEVER miss the school talent show!
Maggie Gyllenhaal is Cale’s ex-hookup from college, now a top-level Secret Service agent. James Woods is the head of the president’s Secret Service detail, and we know what his deal is the minute we see him saying goodbye to his wife as he leaves for work. Jason Clarke is Hans Gruber — I’m sorry, Stenz — the baddest of the bad guys. Richard Jenkins is Speaker of the House.
It’s a crowded cast, and with a bloated running time of 137 minutes, there’s room for everyone in “White House Down” to spout unintentionally funny lines and generally embarrass himself.
In the world of “White House Down,” it’s comically easy for a band of domestic terrorists to take over the White House, repeatedly gunning down arguably the most inept Secret Service and military personnel ever seen on film.
In classic “Die Hard” fashion, our boy Cale just happens to be in the wrong place at the right time, and before you can say “yippie-ki-yay,” he’s in a sleeveless T-shirt and he’s picking off the bad guys one by one, communicating with various folks on hand-held devices and of course desperately trying to save his daughter. (Saving her life will TOTALLY make up for missing that talent show.)
And that poor kid. She witnesses multiple murders, as innocent people are shot at point-blank range. She gets slapped around and pushed around. She weeps while a bad guy holds a gun to her head. Yeah, that’s some PG-13 entertainment right there.
Emily also performs some remarkable acts of bravery, including a YouTube moment that goes viral and results in some portrayals of modern media news coverage so off-key you’d think someone from another planet was the film’s screenwriter. She also participates in a scene designed to stir our emotions that will almost certainly elicit gales of laughter from audiences. I have seen 3,000-plus movies in the last 15 years, and the scene in question is so egregiously stupid, I’m still shaking my head days later. (Which looks really weird when I’m driving.)
I know: “White House Down” isn’t supposed to be some gritty thriller. It’s just a big, loud, popcorn movie from Roland Emmerich, director of “Independence Day,” “Godzilla,” “10,000 B.C.” and “2012,” among other assaults on the senses. (OK, “Independence Day” was ridiculous good fun. Those other titles were just awful.)
But “Transformers 3” was subtle compared with this nonsense. Emmerich doesn’t flinch as he puts a child character in constant jeopardy, shamelessly borrows from better movies and constantly insults our intelligence with jingoistic manipulation and cheesy one-liners.
Between scenes of escalating violence and carnage in and around the White House, we see good actors reciting bad dialogue with various degrees of enthusiasm. Tatum and Foxx seem to know they’re in a dopey buddy movie. Jenkins and Woods, among others, are saddled with the impossible task of making us believe they are serious, substantial people neck-deep in a pivotal moment in American history. Not since Leslie Nielsen and Lloyd Bridges in “Airplane!” have I seen a more impressive display of keeping a straight face.
Then again, “Airplane!” was supposed to be a joke.