Who would have thought that 2013 would be the year of the ‘terrorists take over the White House’ action movie? Well, that is if two movies about a White House terrorist takeover warrants such a title. The first of these films was “Olympus has Fallen”, a straightforward old school action picture that I liked due to its clear idea of what it wanted to be. Now we get “White House Down” – a mess of a film that lacks the focus and material to be memorable or even slightly worth watching.
“White House Down” is a bad movie. It’s filled with one contrivance after another and it hasn’t an original bone in its entire 130 life-draining minutes. I actually had to look up the running time because it felt like a 3 hour movie. It’s slow, laborious, and director Roland Emmerich never seems to know when to pull the plug. It would be fine if the story was engaging or the action was exhilarating. Unfortunately it isn’t either of those things, and an action movie that lacks excitement already has one strike against it.
The story is pretty basic. Channing Tatum plays John Cale, A US Capitol police officer with aspirations of joining the President’s Secret Service team. He’s a divorced father on the outs with his daughter Emily (Joey King). So he tries to win her over by taking her to the White House where he is interviewing for a position. Unfortunately he picks a day when a group of politically correct terrorists take control of the White House, kill a bunch of people, unveil their master plan, yada yada yada. I think you get the drift. Jaime Foxx plays President James Sawyer and forms the film’s ‘buddy cop’ team with Tatum. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a Secret Service head. Jason Clarke, James Woods, Richard Jenkins, and Lance Reddick are also present.
For the most part the performances are terrible. Tatum is as unconvincing as ever and his attempts at being a cool macho-type don’t work. Jaimee Foxx probably gives the worst performance. At times he shows slight bits of believability but then he destroys it with some goofy line or ridiculous delivery. Jason Clarke runs around like a madman and seems wildly miscast. Reddick is laugh-out-loud bad as a stiff and grunting General. Gyllenhaal may give the best performance of the group but even she is eventually smothered by the weak material.
As bad as the performances are it’s the script that is the biggest problem. It’s hard to believe that James Vanderbilt, the man who wrote “Zodiac” from 2007, penned this garbage. The jokes are hokey, the reveals are predictable, and the dialogue is sometimes painful to endure. And then there is Roland Emmerich who has a history with inflated underachieving action pictures. He misses nearly every target he aims for. He drags scenes out too long. He wallows in corny melodrama. And the action (his bread and butter) falls flat. With the exception of one sequence, which entertains despite its silliness, Emmerich’s action is repetitive, hackneyed, and not the least bit exciting.
I do get the argument that “White House Down” isn’t aspiring to new things and it’s just trying to be an old-school action romp. Heck I used that same defense with “Olympus Has Fallen”. But this movie stretches my tolerance level for dopey dialogue, dull action, and poor filmmaking in general. None of the characters have appeal and the movie is littered with poor performances. This was a $150 million mess and I have to believe Columbia Pictures could have gotten a better movie with that kind of money.