WHITE HOUSE DOWN review by Mark Walters – this year’s second DIE HARD in the White House flick

WHITE HOUSE DOWN review by Mark Walters – this year’s second DIE HARD in the White House flick


Roland Emmerich, for whatever reason, has become a director many like to make fun of. Despite having respectable films like THE PATRIOT, it may be forgettable works like THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW or the bloated 2012 that lose him points… not to mention the 1998 disaster GODZILLA remake. But this is also the same guy who brought us STARGATE and INDEPENDENCE DAY. While not always consistent, Emmerich knows how to make big popcorn movies, and has a few under his belt that have made studios very happy with box office returns. His latest effort is the second “DIE HARD in The White House” formula film to come out this year – the first being the Gerard Butler vehicle OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN. This sort of thing happens a lot in Hollywood, two films with very similar plots get put into production about the same time, and are released roughly around the same time… but usually one wins the day and the other is quickly forgotten. As I hear it, WHITE HOUSE DOWN was actually (technically) the first of the two movies to go into official production, though both films’ scripts were purchased to be made just a few weeks apart. While I enjoyed the R-rated OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN as a tough guy action flick, it didn’t seem to make that big of a splash with audiences, just barely making back its $70 million budget in the States. WHITE HOUSE DOWN is a bigger and more ambitious production, with a reported budget of $150 million, but also sporting a PG-13 rating and summer release date.

Channing Tatum stars as John Cale, a war veteran and single dad working in Washington D.C. as protection for the Speaker of the House (played by Richard Jenkins). His young daughter Emily (Joey King) is fascinated with politics and The White House, and in an effort to bond John takes her with him to his job interview – Cale is pushing for a promotion to secret service detail for President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx), but is told by the deciding factor (in this case played my Maggie Gyllenhaal) that he’s just not a good fit. Their time at the White House finds the father and daughter becoming part of a tour, and while this is happening armed men begin seizing control of pretty much everything, even taking The President hostage. Cale must jump into action as that “one man” against many, and do his best to keep President Sawyer safe, all while his daughter and other innocents are being held hostage.

While WHITE HOUSE DOWN isn’t anything radically new for the kind of film it is, the presentation manages to be a fun and rather slick ride. The initial set up is a bit slow getting to the action, but once things kick in it’s all pretty consistent and moves at a good pace. Channing Tatum, who many could argue is a ‘product of Hollywood’ (an actor groomed by studios to be a leading man more than a leading man we’re all actually asking for), does his best to be the vulnerable action hero that’s never overly confident. Tatum has said in interviews his character is an homage to Bruce Willis’ “John McClane” in the DIE HARD films, but I never found it to be a straight up carbon copy the way it easily could have been. Channing recently became much more endearing to audiences with his roles in 21 JUMP STREET and MAGIC MIKE, though I’d contend the latter isn’t a good film just showing he is capable of good acting. I imagine it’s tough for a guy like Tatum being under the microscope of so many critics, though here he does a fine job of playing it safe and likable, never pushing the limits of the role. More likely to be the subject of criticism is Jamie Foxx as a President not to dissimilar to Barack Obama. There’s even little jokes like him chewing Nicorette gum, and the brief shots of his first lady (played by Garcelle Beauvais) looking a lot like Michelle Obama. But if anything it made the character (to me at least) seem a bit more real, as it was like watching an Obama-ish President in a movie that begs the question of what one would do if this really happened. Thankfully the politics represented in the film are fairly neutral and generic, so while the inevitable party favoritism remarks people will have may come up, the filmmakers did their best not to take any political sides in the script. Foxx, by comparison to some of his other roles, really plays this part low key and centered. His President is a focused man, and inexperienced in combat, but does what is needed and isn’t afraid to be brave in the right moments. James Woods has a sizable part as the head of Secret Service, and while one could certainly argue he’s showing his age, the man still commands attention in any scene he’s in. The disappointing performance comes from Jason Clarke as the main villain, an actor I normally like a lot, but here he’s just not written well. The little bit of back story we’re given doesn’t give his role enough weight to find him truly evil and threatening. The highest marks go to young Joey King as Cale’s daughter Emily, who ends up being a very likable supporting role, and stands out among a cast filled with recognizable faces. King in undeniably endearing, and reminds me a lot of when I first noticed Chloe Grace-Moretz in movies – her career should only blossom from here.

The action scenes are pretty intense and like the rest of movie usually fun. Some of the close hand-to-hand stuff is a little hard to follow, but there’s a lot of audience-pleasing moments, and I heard more than a few ladies behind me clapping whenever Channing’s character experienced a victory over a baddie. If you’ve ever seen a film like this you pretty much know where things are going, so it’s really all about the journey to get there. At 131 minutes, WHITE HOUSE DOWN does feel a bit long, especially toward the end, but things are rarely boring or tedious. What is perhaps most surprising to me is how violent this is for a PG-13 movie. While there’s little blood shown (almost none that I can recall), the amount of people getting shot (fatally) or blown up is pretty staggering for a film that doesn’t have an R rating. Some scenes, even for an R-rated film (at least in concept), would be considered brutal, which makes me question just how much violence can PG-13 movies get away with these days?

Roland Emmerich has tapped back into some of that adventurous style he exhibited in INDEPENDENCE DAY all those years ago, and let us not forget he is the man who helped make a blockbuster movie star out of Will Smith. While I doubt this film will do for Tatum what ID4 did for Smith, it remains a fun and at times mindless romp that is entertaining enough to see with friends. If I had to weigh the movie against OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN as to which is the better product, I can safely say WHITE HOUSE DOWN is infinitely more polished in its presentation, though it’s also safe to say if you liked one you’ll probably enjoy the other about the same.

WHITE HOUSE DOWN is set to hit theaters on June 28, 2013.

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started Bigfanboy.com, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and Bigfanboy.com regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.