"Get your hands off my Jordans!"
President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx)
Roland Emmerich is one of those directors whose body of work is an acquired taste for certain movie goers. Actually, scratch that… People HATE Roland Emmerich movies. It is rather unique for a film maker to have so much vitriol spat at him from all angles, whether he is tackling alien invasions or re-writing Shakespearean history. The "Master of Disaster" (not always a reference to the genre of his movies) has hardly aided his cause with a recent string of po-faced thrillers that are rather lacking in thrill. So it is unsurprising that his latest movie has already split audiences and critics in two, with many people already
determined to hate it. This would be a real shame, because White House Down is something of a return to form for Emmerich - a slam-bang, riotous Die Hard parody that sees the German director having the most fun since Independence Day back in 1994.
Of course the scenario has already been played out once before this year in Antoine Fuqua's Olympus Has Fallen, starring Gerard Butler as a disgraced Secret Service agent out to rescue President Aaron Eckhart when the White House is taken over by North Korean terrorists (the new go-to foreign threat, following in the footsteps of the Russians and Chinese). Audiences already exasperated by this rather mediocre actioner will no doubt feel that they wish to sidestep another version of the story, especially one from the man who made the rather awful films 10,000 BC and Anonymous. Unlike its predecessor however, this version plays out with its tongue fixed squarely in cheek and upping the action stakes in almost every department. Where Olympus… followed its explosive (and, within context, almost believable) assault on the White House with little else but fistfights within dark corridors, White House Down goes all-out with each set-piece, from the destruction of Air Force One in mid-flight to a high speed chase through the White House gardens in the President's limo. Olympus… also suffers from "First Movie Fatigue", feeling hurried in both dialogue and exposition in order to be released before Channing and Jamie can get there.
Before we get too carried away, it must be pointed out the this film is hardly a game-changer in terms of action movies. However what we do have is a very entertaining throwback to all the late 80s and 90s action films spawned by John McTiernan's template in Die Hard. Key to the film's success is the pairing between Channing Tatum's cop and Jamie Foxx's President. It has been a long time since the chemistry in a buddy action film has worked this successfully. Unlike most recent films where the two would bicker and disagree before learning to accept each other, Cale and Sawyer have a strong camaraderie from the off. The film's home-grown villains have a little more character than the vacuous foreigners in Fuqua's version and with Maggie Gyllenhaal, Richard Jenkins and James Woods in the credits list, Emmerich has placed a strong and reliable group of actors to carry the film through to its conclusion.
Once the end credits have rolled and your mind goes back over the film you have watched, the film's weaknesses become apparent quickly. Yes, this is Die Hard in the White House, but did writer James Vanderbilt have to lift entire sequences and ideas from McTiernan's film that much? Tatum in a dirty vest, scrambling around in elevator shafts, a villainous henchman with a personal grudge against the hero, a secret agenda to the villain's plan - Emmerich even throws in some Beethoven for good measure. The director's Liberal views are anything but subtle, with all the enemies of a right-leaning tendency. The plot also takes one too many twists with the final reveal feeling like a knot-tying afterthought by the film makers, ending the film on a rather flat note. And some ropey CGI effects strapped to key scenes (in particular the Seal Team helicopters flying through the streets - another steal from Die Hard) sour the aftertaste a little. Yet in spite of all this, White House Down remains one of the most entertaining action movies in the past few years. It may not be a classic, but it certainly doesn't disappoint and will leave you with a big smile on your face.
With two strong leads, witty dialogue and pulsating action White House Down is a truly enjoyable night out at the cinema. Plot issues and blatant plagiarism are evident from the start, not to mention the film's blatant Liberal political views. However it is refreshing to see Roland Emmerich having the most fun in a movie for such a long time… And he won't be the only one having a great time in this explosive and entertaining piece of hokum.