Release Date: June 28th, 2013
Directors: Roland Emmerich
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Film Pulse Score: 4/10
A “popcorn movie” by definition is a film that appeals to a mass audience. In most cases they’re the type a film where you want to check your brain at the door and just go in and have a good time. Films like Fast & Furious 6, The Expendables 2, Armageddon or Independence Day were fun but memorable popcorn movies. However for every decent one you do manage to get some burnt batches with films like Battleship, Taken 2 or A Good Day to Die Hard. Now comes Roland Emmerich’s White House Down. It certainly is a popcorn film but there are quite a lot of unpopped kernels in this popcorn bag.
While off duty Capital police officer John Kale brings his daughter Emily, a politics aficionado, with him to the White House where he is to have an interview regarding a position on the President’s Secret Service detail. Meanwhile, terrorists have infiltrated the White House and have quietly begun preparations to make an assault. As they are about to leave Emily asks if they could go on the official tour which they do. While on that tour the terrorists attack. John manages to break free and sets out to find his daughter who had conveniently gone to the ladies room. However, he soon discovers he has a more important task at hand. He’s the only one who can save the President of the United States. Yippie-Ki-Yay!
White House Down has the misfortune of being second out of the gate. Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen had a similar plot but was more of a hard-nosed action thriller than mere summer fare. Ultimately that is not this film’s undoing. The film is so abundantly formulaic that it’s merely going through the motions and because of that is neither all that fun nor memorable. You recognize all sorts of stereotypical archetypes but also beats especially from the first Die Hard. Cop in the wrong place at the right time. Terrorists who look like they are after one thing but it turns out they’re after something else. You have the moment where the villain discovers that they have one thing in their possession that will force this pain in the ass cop to play nice. There is even a moment straight out of Michael Bay’s The Rock. You could write an article about how one scene evokes another from another film.
Plot withstanding one thing that is very bothersome was the over reliance on obvious green screen backgrounds. There are so many poorly rendered backgrounds in this film that it just looks cheap. Obviously they couldn’t shoot a film like this in Washington D.C. but couldn’t they have just enhanced actual locations instead of rendering them. The action sequences are nothing spectacular primarily because they’ve been seen before in more effective films. Only one scene stands out as entertaining and that would be the car chase scene on the White House lawn. Yes there is a car chase and it was rather amusing. Despite the 137 minute running time Emmerich is able to keep it flowing and while it’s formulaic it is never dull but certainly could have been shorter.
Emmerich assembles a solid cast who make due with what they are given. Tatum is fine as Kale. Jamie Foxx is surprisingly good as President Sawyer. James Woods is effective as the head of the President’s Secret Service. Michael Murphy and Richard Jenkins appear as the Vice President and Speaker of the House, respectively. Maggie Gyllenhaal seems to be the only one who doesn’t really sell her role. She didn’t seem to convey the sense of urgency that the situation would likely infer.
White House Down is yet another film that manages to out Die Hard the latest Die Hard film. That would be a plus if the film wasn’t so formulaic. It lacks any thrills, suspense surprises and fun for that matter. It’s watchable but there are far better films out there to watch if you just want to kill a few hours in your day.