The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Friday, February 14, 2014

White House Down

In 1993 and 1994, it was Tombstone and Wyatt Earp. In 1998, it was Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line. In 2011, it was Friends with Benefits and No Strings Attached. All similar movies released in a tight window, forcing audiences to choose which one (because who sees both?!?) to go see. Well, 2013 had its own deja vu entries, Olympus Has Fallen, and now, White House Down.

A veteran of the war in Afghanistan, a highly decorated one at that, John Cale (Channing Tatum) is now a Capitol Police officer assigned to the Speaker of the House, Eli Raphelson (Richard Jenkins). It's pretty straightforward, even boring, duty, John aspiring to be a Secret Service agent even though his credentials aren't quite there. He's also a divorced father, and he's managed to secure two passes for a White House tour, bringing his daughter, Emily (Joey King), to the President's home. While on the tour, John and Emily even meet the President, James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx), who even speaks briefly with the politically-obsessed Emily. Only minutes later though, a bomb goes off in the Capitol Building, and soon the shooting starts in the White House. A group of gunmen are trying to take the President hostage. Separated from his daughter, John must now try and find her and make sure she's safe while also doing his damnedest to save the President.

This action-heavy political thriller from director Roland Emmerich hit theaters last summer, just months after the similarly-themed Olympus Has Fallen. It did all right in theaters, struggling some in the U.S. but making over $200 million internationally. Why did it struggle? Was it released too close to 'Olympus'? My money is on 'no.' I saw Olympus, liked it a lot, admitting it was cheesy, pretty dumb, predictable, obvious and a hell of a lot of fun. 'White House' is all of those things's awful. It isn't fun. It's stupid, mind-numbingly stupid. I guess I shouldn't be completely surprised. Emmerich is the master of the big, overblown but ultimately entertaining blockbusters -- Independence Day, 2012, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow -- but that trend seems on the downhill. 'Tomorrow' was just dumb, I didn't see 2008's 10,000 B.C., and 2012 was laughable. 'White House' most definitely continues that downhill trend.

Yes, I know this is a movie that's supposed to be fun and dumb and entertaining. It isn't meant to rewrite Film as an entire entity. But does it have to be so cliche-ridden? So forced? Much like 'Olympus,' the premise certainly has some promise. What's protocol when the President of the United States' home comes under attack, a house that is heavily fortified and seemingly impregnable? That's cool. The action is cool. A shootout on the White House lawn, a fortified limo being chased by armored and heavily armed SUVs? Yeah, I can get on board with that. But that's it. These really cool moments, some potentially great action scenes get shot right in the foot because of a script that absolutely refuses to try anything even remotely unique? Sorry, screenwriter James Vanderbilt, this script was the biggest reason this movie flops. Disappointing when I realized Vanderbilt wrote The Losers, Zodiac, Basic, all movies I really liked. Cliches in an action movie are one thing, but this tested me. Late in the movie, repetitive at 131 minutes, I only stuck with it for the sake of a review. Yeah, I'm pretty honorable like that.

I've come around on Channing Tatum. With the right movie, the guy can act. He's likable on-screen, is a solid presence and can more than carry his own in action sequence. I still don't think he's a great actor (potentially, he could be), leaning more toward the movie star angle. This is a mixed part for him. Again, the script does him no favors. He's a divorced father, his busy schedule making it hard to be a good parent for Emily (King is a solid, young actress), pissing off his ex-wife (Rachelle Lefevre). Oh, and he's kinda absent-minded, not detail-oriented, but aw shucks, he's an American hero and really, really wants to be a Secret Service agent!!! Wouldn't you know it? The Secret Service agent (Maggie Gyllenhaal) in charge of hiring agents is an ex-girlfriend! Trapped inside the White House, he's also the only trained personnel that thinks to dodge gunfire, the Secret Service agents just standing there and getting shot. Tatum is okay -- not great, not bad -- and is clearly doing his best to have some fun.

The rest of the cast comes from Stock Characters 101. Jamie Foxx is okay as President Barack Obama, um, I mean President James Sawyer, but I don't know if he was a great casting choice to begin with. James Woods is the bad guy because what else would James Woods be doing in this movie? He's okay, a little overdone, as Martin Walker, the treacherous head of the Secret Service. His small army of gunmen/terrorists are led by Jason Clarke's Stenz, a mercenary with vengeance on his mind. Clarke is over the top but at least interesting in the villain department. His fellow gunmen are pretty faceless, Jimmi Simpson providing some odd comedic relief as the hacker, Kevin Rankin the right wing nut, Killick, who's crazy because he has a thin mustache, doesn't wear a shirt, just body armor, and screams a lot. As for the assorted political types to go with Jenkins and Gyllenhaal (legitimate actors legitimizing the a point), also look for Michael Murphy and Lance Reddick.

There's just too many painful moments here, too much to prevent it from being tolerable. When you think you're safe, the ending feels like a Scooby Doo ending. "If it wasn't for you meddling Capitol police, I would have got away with it!" At one point, Woods asks Clark "Want some cake?" to which Clark answers "No!.....I've got diabetes!!!" What?!? Later, Foxx's President Sawyer, having opted for some Air Jordans for his getaway, kicks a terrorist trying to hold him down and yells "Don'!" The attempts at catchy, fun lines are awful, especially Tatum's one-liner when he dukes it out with Clarke, as is the solution to the White House coming under attack. It's certainly one I questioned, but then again, by then, I was questioning a lot of things. I don't want to give away too much of the awesomeness. Feel the pain yourself.

This one stunk.

White House Down (2013): */****

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