Top Banner 2

He Said, She Said Review Site
White House Down

White House Down

What She said:


During the summer of 2013, the world was privileged to have the release of two nearly identical action flicks—White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen.  Judging mostly by the trailers, I’d say these movies are near equals in their substance and quality.  The He and I have decided that it’s time for us to undertake these to two films in near succession.  Last weekend, we started with White House Down, director Roland Emmerich’s take on what happens when the White House is overrun by terrorists.  This film is actually the better received of the two by critics, although not by much.  I have to say, White House Down offers plenty of action, but not much beyond that.  In fact, the premise and quality of some of the elements are downright laughable.

John Cale is an ex-soldier who is sort of down on his luck.  I mean, he’s not doing too bad.  He’s a U.S. Capitol Police Officer assigned to the Speaker of the House, but he wants more.  His marriage has failed and his daughter seems pretty disconnected from him.  More than anything, Cale dreams of being someone that his kid and look up to, and he has his mind set on doing so by becoming a member of the Secret Service.  Cale interviews for the job with a former school acquaintance, Carol Finnerty, but he’s immediately turned down because of his poor record of service.  As Cale is leaving the interview, his daughter, who is a total political junkie, talks him into joining a White House tour.  Of course, this is the very moment when all hell breaks loose—a bomb goes off, mean guys swarm the White House, and several people are taken hostage.  Cale wants to get himself and his daughter out alive, but also answers the call to aid the President who appears to be a target.  Can he save the day and prove himself as worthwhile?

Channing Tatum was born for the role of John Cale.  He’s big and meaty, and despite trying to act somewhat intelligent, he comes off as a bit of an oaf.  But you’ve got to love him.  He truly does his best, and he’s pretty good at shooting guns, climbing elevator shafts, and driving bullet proof limos around the White House Lawn.  Who wouldn’t want him as a member of their Secret Service?  

White House Down

Equally memorable in this film is Jaime Foxx as the President James Sawyer.  He’s supposed to be a people’s president, and puts on a pair of Air Jordan’s before running from the bad guys.  Who would think to do that?  Well, that’s just how real James Sawyer is.  He brings to the job a relatable everyday man’s mentality, and has some attitude to boot.  While Foxx seems to embrace this role and runs with it (in his Air Jordan’s), it’s pretty ridiculous to think that someone like this would ever make it all the way through the political ladder and to the top, at least not in this day and age.  Politics seem way too, well, political, for someone so normal to scratch and claw their way to the presidency, as much as we all may hope it.  

Much more likely to emerge as President is someone like the Speaker of the House, Eli Raphelson, played by Richard Jenkins. He’s extremely partisan and moody, and is clearly a career politician.  So, we see the plot twist of this film involving Raphelson coming a mile away, as much of a shame as that is.  

The story in this film is beyond contrived.  We have to be told repeatedly why people are acting the way they are, rather than letting us figure it out.  That’s because everyone acts so erratically, and because we’re offered very little in the way of backstory at the outset.  There’s little to no context to the film at all.  But hey, there’s lots of guns, men in tank tops and bullet proof vests, blood spatter, fire, and the body count on this film is quite high.  I recall one scene where we look down a White House hallway and you just see bodies of police officers strewn about.  The baddies in this film have access to a ridiculous armory, and are fortunate enough to have their plan go off without a hitch.  This means that they very swiftly take over the facilities and, if not for Cale, would have walked away having easily achieved their end game.  What is the end game you may ask?  Well, that’s not revealed until very late in the movie, which means you’ll be pretty bewildered for nearly two hours about why all this is happening

White House Down is a filmmaking exercise in seeing just how much ridiculousness an audience can tolerate and whether a movie can actually be so dumb that it’s actually funny and/or enjoyable.  In the same vein of the film 2012, White House Down almost achieves that level of absurdity.  I was annoyed by just how stupid it truly was, but also had to laugh and mock some of its circumstances.  I’ll probably never have to watch this movie again, which makes me happy.  But, you know, it’s one of those experiences in life that I don’t wholly regret.

Thumbs maybe a quarter of the way up, and that’s me being nice.

What He said:

White House Down

Roland Emmerich has made some movies I have truly enjoyed growing up. They are filled with clichéd and stereotypical characters. It would actually be fair to call them caricatures. They aren’t the best movies ever made, but they are fun, and sometimes that is all that matters. I loved Universal Soldier (review here) as a kid. The kid in me still does. Independence Day is one of the best summer blockbusters of all time. It is arguably his best overall movie. At the very least it’s an example of a blockbuster at its finest. I am also a fan of Stargate and I even enjoyed his version of Godzilla. Hell, I even enjoyed 2012, but not in the same way as the other movies. So even though I thought White House Down looked pretty bad – and critics seemed to agree with that – I still wanted to see it.

John Cale (Channing Tatum) is a veteran of the Afghanastan War and a member of the United States Capitol Police. That’s pretty impressive, but Cale still has his problems. He wants more out of his career and has had trouble advancing. He’s also divorced and has a poor relationship with his daughter Emily (Joey King). Partly because of his job and partly because he doesn’t have his act together, he misses out on a lot of time with her.

So, he gets the idea that he can kill two birds with one stone. You see, Emily is a major political junkie and a huge fan of President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx). He decides to apply for a job with the Secret Service.  The job interview is with former college friend Carol Finnerty. Carol (Maggie Gyllenhaal) remembers Cale as a slacker and when she points out some of those things on his resume, she has to turn him down. Rejected, Cale lies to his daughter and takes her on a tour of the White House.

If you thought he was having a bad day before, it’s about to get a whole lot worse. The White House is attacked by a group of terrorists. Cale is then forced to do his best John McCLane impression and rescue the president, protect his daughter, and save the day.

White House Down

This movie is completely ridiculous. Its overacted big time, filled with cliché performances and characters, and even the action is ridiculous. The action is so over-the-top the movie can’t be taken seriously as an action movie. That doesn’t mean it can’t work as a comedy though. This movie was so bad that it actually won me over to a point. The best way to justify that statement is to tell you about the scene in which Channing Tatum’s character is driving a limo around the White House lawn with Jamie Foxx – who plays the president – hanging out the side with a rocket launcher on his shoulder, aimed at the bad guys chasing them. Yeah, that really happened. It was so completely absurd and I couldn’t stop laughing. Roland Emmerich is either a comedic genius or his view of Americans is so ridiculous that it works as an unintentional comedy. You can actually see elements of some of his other movies – like Independence Day – but the execution is so laughably bad. This movie and 2012 are filled with plenty of actors who are capable of good performances, but they’re so hammy and over-the-top I have to think it’s intentional. Even if it isn’t, it’s still fun to laugh at. It's like a SyFy channel movie that somehow snuck into theaters.

Rating: Thumbs half up.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on November 16, 2013.