White House Down, Review

Filmmaker troll Roland Emmerich is back to mock his audience with big, ugly, and dumb destruction porn.

Like a frequent YouTube comment writer, Director Roland Emmerich is the Troll King of movie land; a technologically enabled commenter who sees disaster movies as opportunities to jab at his audience’s sensitivities with a sarcasm that rivals the size of his on-screen global spectacle. This is the filmmaker who recognized the nutty 2012 apocalypse nightmares by presenting them with special effects only three years before the title event. Earlier, he lampooned international global warming anxieties with the colossally dumb The Day After Tomorrow in 2004, two years before Al Gore’s famous doc An Inconvenient Truth. Emmerich seems to be in the wreckin’ business for the wrong reasons; he isn’t stirring the pot, but spitting in it. Certainly when watching him showcase the deaths of billions of people onscreen in 2012 like a human being without an iota of humanity, one realizes that this director is not making these big films for some notion of the greater good. No, it is primarily to unleash his own attack on audiences that he holds in contempt.   I didn’t have this epiphany until after I saw White House Down, a film that is cold, dumb, and ugly. Thus, it fits cozily into Emmerich’s history of trolling. While Emmerich only gets to blow up a couple of national landmarks (an action spectacle I could watch at the movies every week), his unsightly attitude is aimed towards satirizing current incarnations of patriotism, peace and poking at very fresh wounds of recent history that even lame shock comedians would find to be in poor taste. It is an ugly movie that fails the Die Hard test it signs itself up for.   In a calm before the silly storm, White House Down begins with the grace of an American flag blowing in the wind. President James Sawyer, played with classy swag by Jamie Foxx, is having an early morning helicopter ride with his Secret Service cronies, which includes Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and Walker (James Woods). Foxx’s president is one that is amazed by Lincoln, spouting off trivia about him like a giddy schoolboy and clutching the dead president’s watch in his hand. 

  Meanwhile across the city, ex-soldier turned bodyguard John Cale (Channing Tatum) is trying to protect a birdhouse from a troublesome squirrel that he has affably named Clyde, outside the residence of his employer Speaker of the House Richard Jenkins. Not only is Cale a friend of this squirrel, he is also the absent single dad to one precocious Emily (Joey King) who loves the White House and everything about it.  Cale tries to bribe his daughter’s goodwill by getting hooked up with a White House tour, which is scheduled after Cale has his own interview for a Secret Service position with Gyllenhaal’s Finnerty. This sequence begins the shameless color-by-numbers that the movie functions on, using famous set-ups like “The Interview” and “The Tour” to lay out all expectations we have about our hero and the titular location he inhabits.   Soon after Cale is rejected in his interview, the motivated underdog gets his first unexpected field test when a group of angry American ex-soldiers take over the White House, initially having gained access to the building by posing as home theater technicians. Cale rescues the president from his captor, and it is up to the two of them to take back the White House while military forces on the outside prepare for the worst.

  After having a killer 2012 with Magic Mike and 21 Jump Street, super-likable Tatum is a star more than ready for a non-franchised action movie to dominate. Unfortunately, this isn’t it. While his character’s personality is planted obviously in the first act, Tatum’s charisma is wasted by a story that doesn’t give him enough focus. By the third act, in which Tatum can finally Die Hard his way through this action chaos on his own, his personality has been sucked away and his special flavor watered down. Instead of providing a performance that could nudge audiences towards memories of heyday Bruce Willis, we get the appeal of Nicolas Cage’s forgettable thrillers post-Adaptation.   Aside from Clyde the squirrel, Tatum does have decent chemistry with Foxx, who is most definitely a product of Barack Obama’s popularity. Foxx’s presence is worth a mismatched duo chuckle or two, especially in a movie highlight that involves Foxx & Tatum doing executing evasive donuts on the White House lawn in Ground Force One. At most, Foxx is good as playing comic relief. Despite being the POTUS, he doesn’t have any authentic patriotism in him. Like when he stabs someone with a pen after arguing that the pen was indeed mightier than the sword, Foxx’s character is uglier the deeper you dig into him.   Emmerich casts this movie like he wants the IMDb listing to be a joke itself, yanking these capable actors and squeezing them into little prison cells known as various genre tropes. Aside from ol’ Olympus itself, White House Down’s biggest casualty is Gyllenhaal. She continues to suffer abuse from her agent, and now screenwriter James Vanderbilt, who makes her character say all the dumb things that his script isn’t smart enough to develop.    In this same regard, actors like James Woods, Richard Jenkins and Jason Clarke (the snarling interrogator from Zero Dark Thirty) are made into the jokes that they aren’t, garnering ugly results. To top off his sundae of silliness, Emmerich tosses in a McPoyle from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia I (Jimmi Simpson), who essentially re-reads dialogue from the original glasses-wearing hacker in Die Hard, while sharing that character’s same taste for a specific classical composer.

   White House Down’s bad humor goes beyond just goofing with American history when it begins trolling current events. For example, how can a 2013 action movie script make so many jokes about its ex-soldiers, and (as vaguely put as possible) the grief shared by parents who lost their son in battle? What tasteful laughs are there to be made about this fresh wound and, ultimately, for what purpose? In this aspect, White House Down is miles behind Michael Bay’s The Rock, which used angry veterans as its key hostage takers, but respected the very dark tragedy that is their involvement with such crime. Here, we’ve got jokey henchmen that were former soldiers. Likely to Emmerich’s delight, his lead villain played by Clarke is sure to bring up memories of another movie about angry servicemen in the Middle East, Zero Dark Thirty.   While it has amusing bits of over-the-top nuttiness and made me laugh at a joke involving Abraham Lincoln taking a second bullet, White House Down is shameless about its lack of tact, turning this gun-filled apple pie bake sale into an ironic action movie, or worse, a comedy with no integrity. It is a parody of the very story elements this movie is relying on for its most basic appeal. Because it hardly has any good ideas of its own, it just piles jokes on top of jokes. In the end, the supposed patriotism shown on screen is just BS, another sarcastic gesture from the cold Emmerich.   Den of Geek Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars


2.5 out of 5