“…every single character in this movie is so two-dimensional that if they turned sideways they would disappear.”
Last night I reached a milestone in my film watching career; I can now, finally, tell the difference between White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen. This is something I thought I would never be able to say. As I mentioned in my Olympus Has Fallen review, when the two films came out very close together, I had immediately judged Olympus Has Fallen to be the worst of the two. It’s not that I thought either movie looked particularly exceptional, it’s just that the trailer for Olympus Has Fallen seemed to portray it as a “serious” movie, while the trailer for White House Down seemed to take itself a lot more lightly with the inclusion of many jokes in the trailer. It turns out that my initial thoughts were completely backwards and White House Down tries to present itself as a very cinematic movie, whereas Olympus Has Fallen just wants to have fun. I’ll go into detail about what exactly I mean by “cinematic movie”, but first the plot. Channing Tatum plays a guy who is not very good at anything except for looking good and shooting dudes in the head. He has a daughter (who is really old; I mean, did him and his wife get pregnant when they were twelve?) who is obsessed with politics, and therefore Channing Tatum wants to get a job with the secret service to impress his daughter. He gets denied the job (because remember, he’s not very good at anything) and then as he’s leaving the building with his daughter, terrorists attack. He then goes on a mission to find his daughter, who got separated from him during the attack, and ends up unintentionally saving the president’s (Jamie Foxx) life. He and the the president then kind of hang out and kill dudes while waiting for an escape plan that has to be set up by the pentagon. That was a very long winded plot synopsis for a film that ultimately doesn’t have that much of a plot.
You’ll have to forgive me if throughout this review I compare this film to Olympus Has Fallen, but it is kind of hard not to considering they were one in the same to me until recently. Anyway, during my review I likened Olympus Has Fallen to Die Hard, and I guess in that regard I would liken White House Down to something like Lethal Weapon. Not so much because it is a good movie, but because it relies heavily on the “buddy” mechanic. And it isn’t really even a good buddy movie, because usually buddy movies set up two characters who wouldn’t normally be together and put them in situations that allow both parties to show their strengths and ultimately work together. In White House Down, the two main characters are very similar apart from two differences (that don’t really affect their character), their race, and the fact that only one of them is the president. Other than that they are both kind of “unlikely heroes” who both are struggling with growing up in an age filled with technology and both have daughters who they don’t really connect to. This leads to kind of a zipper effect, where everything fits together so well that there are no snags. That being said, both characters had some pretty funny lines, and there were situations that were hilarious. Some of that, unfortunately, was very race-based humor. I was happy when Obama was elected president because I thought that it would finally put an end to old white men being president in every single movie. This movie gave me my wish, but then fucking ran with it in the other direction. The president in this movie is pretty much a walking stereotype, and many of the jokes rely on him being black. One of the worst offenders of this is a scene in the movie where the two characters get back to the president’s bedroom and the president needs new shoes. He proceeds to open the closet to reveal a bunch of Air Jordan sneakers. I mean that is pretty low hanging fruit. It’s fine that the president has casual shoes, but to show a black president with an extensive shoe collection is overdoing it a little. This is made even worse when later on, an enemy grabs the president’s foot, and the president proceeds to kick the man in the face while saying “Get your hands off my Jordans”. Maybe I’m looking into it too far, but it seems that the writer made the president black just to include a bunch of racially stereotypical humor.
I guess now we’ll talk about the action in this movie. White House Down is directed by Roland Emmerich, who is famous for films such as Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012. Almost all of his movies have the same look to them, and that look is kind of “plastic” if that makes sense. It’s almost as if his effects are too perfect, which makes them look fake. There were many scenes in this movie, not even action scenes, where it was very apparent that they were filming on a soundstage. Those scenes are quite literally, every single scene that takes place outdoors. And there are a couple of action scenes that take place outdoors that look like a video game. This kept taking me out of the movie, but it is unfortunately par for the course with Emmerich. For those of you who know Emmerich’s films, you will know that he likes to do “theatrical” action, which is action that is on a grand scale. This leaves something to be desired in a movie that takes place, for the most part, in one location. It’s fine when the world is your canvas, but in White House Down the action should have been more close quarters (not unlike it was in Olympus Has Fallen) and unfortunately it fell short on that front. Emmerich has a very specific style, which is to capture not only the action but the surrounding area of the action, and that doesn’t really work in scenes that take place in one room. The story in White House Down also leaves something to be desired. That movie clocks in at two hours and ten minutes (roughly) and boy did I feel it. Like I said, there isn’t a whole lot of action in this movie, so really the weight of my attention falls on the plot, and that just wasn’t up to the task. I understand that something as important as the president being held hostage in the White House has a lot of external factors in play, but this is supposed to be an action film, not a drama. There was never any point in this film that I was afraid for, or even cared about, any character on screen but this movie treats every character as if they are as important as the president. So between the lackluster scenes of buildings blowing up and shit we got that is almost an attempt at a political thriller but neither the characters, or the story itself are interesting enough. Speaking of the characters, it wasn’t just the president that was a harsh stereotype, but literally every single character in this movie is so two-dimensional that if they turned sideways they would disappear. You of course have the black guy as president, but you also have the know it all little girl who is so disappointed in her father that she only calls him by his first name, you have the father in question who is slightly out of touch with the youth of today and in turn is out of touch with his daughter, but he tries his hardest. You also have a supporting cast of stereotypes, I mean characters, including but not limited to, the woman who is in a position of power but is ignorant to everything that is around her, the old man who is on the surface very sweet but underneath is holding onto demons, and the man who is a stickler for the rules. I could honestly go on for hours outlining the types of characters in this movie, but you get the point. The only thing that White House Down has going for it in the character department, is the all star cast that portrays them. This movie will constantly have you saying “Oh shit! [insert actor name here] is in this movie!?”
Overall White House down is a somewhat boring attempt at an action film. If you want to see White House Down, I would recommend Olympus Has Fallen instead.
I give White House Down a D