Saturday, August 10, 2013

Review: White House Down

Let’s get the comparison out of the way.  Olympus Has Fallen is a better movie than White House Down.  In what has to represent career lows for both Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum, the duo have been outdone in the presidential catastrophe genre by the non-immortal Gerard Butler.  But in the interest of keeping things real, let me say that comparing these two movies is the equivalent of comparing Burger King and McDonald’s; both are almost equally terrible and in the long run will probably kill you.  It’s just that the stench from White House Down is a bit more pungent.

The plot of this latest movie from director Roland Emmerich finds former Marine Cale (played by Channing Tatum) looking to earn a job with the Secret Service and win the respect of his daughter (Joey King) while on a trip to the White House.  When a band of domestic terrorists unleash an assault on the White House in an effort to take the President and wreak political havoc, Cale is forced to take action in order to save both the Commander-in-Chief and his own daughter.

Clearly Emmerich and writer James Vanderbilt (The Amazing Spider-Man) are completely eschewing realism for this movie, but that should neither come as any surprise nor is it the kiss of death.  The problem here is that White House Down is the continuation of a downward spiral for Emmerich, who once upon a time knew how to deliver actions movies that were short on intelligence and long on fun.  More recently his films (2012, 10,000 BC) have shown his transformation into a caricature of himself as a director with action sequences that seem poorly planned and the kind of schlocky sentimentality that could send someone into sugar shock. 

Making matters worse are Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx who act as gasoline to the flame that is Emmerich’s direction.  In my opinion Tatum is Mark Wahlberg redux – an actor who is funny (in a big goon kind of way a la 21 Jump Street), but is hard to take serious in any other kind of role.  He is only passably believable as a former Marine turned Cop, but has no credibility as a divorced father.  Sure, writer James Vanderbilt is feeding him terrible lines, but it feels like Tatum is making no attempt to exude any kind of charisma while delivering them.  Normally, I would call this a paycheck film for an actor, but with Tatum it’s really hard to distinguish because acting is not really his strong suit.

Then there is Jamie Foxx, who I have said repeatedly is a terrible actor.  In fact, he may be the worst actor ever to win an Academy Award…seriously.  And it seems in White House Down, he sets out to prove this sentiment true.  If ever there was a less believable performance in cinematic history than this one, I challenge one and all to find it.  Yes, he fumbles lines.  Yes, he fails at maintaining any kind of consistency in his character.  Yes, he has zero chemistry with his muscle-bound co-start.  And yes, he is actually a worse dramatic actor than Channing Tatum.

So with the two names sitting atop the marquee performing so poorly, it’s no wonder the movie wreaks so badly.  Even with fair performances from acting veterans Richard Jenkins (Speaker of the House), James Woods (head of the president’s Secret Service detail), and Jason Clarke (rogue Delta soldier), and a better-than-usual turn for Maggie Gyllenhaal, whom I will forever refer to as the weak link in the Dark Knight, nothing makes this viewing experience any better.  Not even a slightly better than average child performance from Joey King (Cale’s daughter) and good comedic relief from Nicolas Wright (as a White House tour guide)

There’s no nice way to put this.  White House Down stinks.  At best it’s a Sunday night FX movie at the end of a long weekend when you can’t really concentrate and you need something to put you down for the night.  Under any other circumstance, you will without a doubt find yourself struggling with the same regret I am plagued with as I type this review.  If it is action you seek, go with Independence Day as it will let you experience some of Emmerich’s better work from days long since passed, and it will also give you that White House demolition visual.  A refresh of that movie could be useful as Independence Day parts 2 and 3 are rumored to be in the works; also to be directed by Emmerich.  On second, you may want to take a pass on those movies as well. 

Standout Performance:  Richard Jenkins.  He’s solid in this movie and that’s saying a lot.


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