WHITE HOUSE DOWN IS A DECENT ACTION MOVIE AND WAS BETTER THAN EXPECTED, BUT NOT AS GOOD AS ITS OLDER TWIN OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN
Director: Roland Emmerich
Starring: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Woods, Richard Jenkins
Studio: Sony Pictures
Length: 2 Hrs 11 Min
John Cale’s having a rough day. He’s catching a tonne of heat from his ex-wife for, well, being his ex-wife, his relationship with his eleven year old daughter is strained because he’s messing up as a dad at every turn despite his best intentions, and his interview for the secret service job he needed to elevate his status in his daughter’s eyes goes wrong from the word go. Then, just to cap it all off, while he and his daughter are on a tour of the White House, a group of terrorists seize control of 1600 Pennsylvania avenue. That’s a lot to deal with before lunch and if the plot sounds remarkably similar to the storyline in March’s Olympus Has Fallen, that’s because it pretty much is. And while White House Down delivers adequate punch for an action movie, it’s the lesser of the two films, which is unfortunate for Roland Emmerich’s most recent summer popcorn movie because of the inevitable comparisons the two movies’ identical plots will provoke.
There are some differences, to be sure. In Olympus, Gerard Butler plays a secret service agent parked behind a desk after he fails to prevent the tragic death of the first lady and soon finds himself swept up in a spectacular assault on the White House by North Korean terrorists bent on taking the president hostage to seize America’s nuclear arsenal. In White House Down, Tatum’s Cale is a capital police officer whose daughter is taken hostage by a motley crew of domestic terrorists ranging from white supremacist Tea Party types to disgruntled former soldiers, apparently looking to ransom the president off for the entire U.S. Treasury. After that though, both movies are roller coaster rides of explosions, gun fights and fisticuffs that can best be described as Die Hard on Capitol Hill.
Channing Tatum has always struck me as having the potential to be the next big action star, but somehow that breakout role has always eluded him (G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra failed to carve him a foot hold and he had little more than an extended solo in this spring’s sequel). In White House Down though he gets a chance to sink his teeth into his action hero role, efficiently delivering some humour along the way as well. Jamie Foxx does a more than decent job as President Sawyer, though after his turn as the hero in Quentin Tarantino’s fantastic revenge fantasy Django Unchained, it’s unusual seeing Foxx playing the guy who needs rescuing (though Foxx’s commander-in-chief does get in a handful of shots against the bad guys along the way). And even though White House Down starts a little slow, Emmerich quickly ramps up the pace and once at full throttle, he doesn’t ease his foot off the gas too much until the final credits. He even makes a thinly veiled nod to the magnum opus of his career, a certain science fiction disaster movie starring Will Smith that also featured some prominent destruction at the White House a few years back.
White House Down isn’t a bad action movie. It isn’t great but it was better than I expected going in. While it isn’t going to go down in movie buddy history, the onscreen relationship between Foxx and Tatum had its share of decent chemistry as the two trade barbs and one liners while dodging bullets. And if you’re looking for comic relief, there’s a particular tour guide that pops up every once in a while that provides a few chuckles here and there. But White House Down simply isn’t as good as Olympus Has Fallen, and it’s that comparison that is going to hang over this movie’s head like the cinematic sword of Damocles. Nothing against Tatum, but for the time being Butler seems more bread to his action roles, Olympus‘ villain was a little more ruthless and imposing and the action delivered a little more punch. That’s not to say that White House doesn’t have plenty of action-Emmerich’s signature over the top approach is on full display-but Olympus just seemed a little more orchestrated, a little more precise. Plus, White House runs a little too long for my tastes and there was probably plenty of opportunity for Emmerich to get all his best explosions in under two hours.
Rumour has it that originally, White House Down was supposed to be released first but Olympus Has Fallen‘s release date was bumped up to this past March, a strategic move that will probably cause a lot of movie goers to write White House off as cheap copy cat fare. Unfortunately, White House Down‘s promotional campaign hasn’t been able to establish its own identity (although, there’s precious little difference between the two movies outside of their actors). It’s a costly error that could hurt; even as I was leaving the theatre I overheard more than one comparison between the two, all favouring Olympus as the better movie. The lesson moviemakers may learn here is how truly valuable word of mouth is for the success of a summer blockbuster.