By David Watson

How can the same shit happen to the same…nope, nuh-huh, I’m not going there, I’m not lowering myself to make that joke.  Particularly when everybody else already has (including BOTH the UK’s major film magazines!  C’mon guys, talk to each other…).  In fact, the ubiquity of that crappy, rather obvious joke is emblematic of White House Down itself as a film and Hollywood’s increasingly intellectually bankrupt appetite for high-concept popcorn sellers.   

Just as a few years ago we had a couple of big budget end of the world flicks about planet-killer asteroids heading for Earth, we’ve had competing volcano movies, disaster movies, alien invasion flicks while this year has seen a brace of Die Hard-in-the-White House movies.  First up was Antoine Fuqua’s muscular, dementedly xenophobic, insanely entertaining Olympus Has Fallen which saw macho Scots mentalist Gerard Butler save the world by stabbing an army of dirty foreigners (Korean terrorists) in the skull.  This week it’s the turn of human/Louis XV wardrobe hybrid Channing Tatum, up to his nuts in homegrown terrorists, to save motor-mouthed Prez Jamie Foxx and avert World War 3.  Funny isn’t it how we never get two rival horse whisperer films or competing explorations of repressed homosexuality under the Nazis? 

Divorced Capitol Hill cop John McClane, sorry, Cale’s (Channing Tatum) dreams of joining the Secret Service and becoming a bullet catcher for hip, Obama-lite President James Walker (Jamie Foxx) are dashed when he’s interviewed by former old flame Special Agent Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhall) who deems him too irresponsible and disrespectful of authority for the job.  Look, he must be a rebel, he hasn’t even done up the top button of hs shirt or straightened his tie for the biggest interview of his life! 

Not wishing to disappoint young daughter and political groupie Emily (Joey King) with whom he’s trying to build a relationship, he lies about the outcome of the interview (coz it’s entirely normal to take your 11-year-old daughter to a job interview…) and they take a tour of the White House together just as disgruntled ex-CIA black ops mercenary Stenz (Jason Clarke) and his team of right-wing nutbags, miffed at Walker’s Middle East peace plans, assault the building, massacring the security detail, intent on taking the Man hostage and nuking Iran.  With the bad guys in control and a camp computer hacker (Jimmi Simpson) cracking the President’s launch codes, it’s down to Cale to rescue Walker and save the day. 

whitehouseWith a budget double that of the similarly themed Olympus Has Fallen and sharing so much DNA with Die Hard it should probably sue for child support, White House Down is possibly the least subtle film you’ll see this year.  It’s loud, it’s noisy, it’s dumb but that’s what we want from a Roland Emmerich film about terrorists hijacking the White House; we’re not watching for the subtle characterisations and nuanced performances, we’re here for the explosions.  It’s a shame then that White House Down is such a lazy, vacuous, uninvolving slice of Saturday night entertainment.  Despite being cartoonishly violent there’s never any real sense of jeopardy about the film.  Sure, lots of people get killed but they’re all cops or terrorists or politicians and, lets be honest, no one really likes cops or terrorists or politicians.  No real people get hurt. After the gritty splatter of Fuqua’s vehicle, White House Down features family friendly scenes of PG-13 slaughter; Olympus Has Fallen featured hundreds of innocent civilians being mown down by an air attack on Washington and the nasty Koreans killing a patriotic American German Shepherd while White House Down features a nasty, cowardly Bill O’Reilly-style political pundit getting shot in the leg by a neo-Nazi.  It’s really not the same, is it?   

The action is big, brash, ridiculous and over-the-top, almost as if Emmerich has watched Die Hard and decided that what John McTiernan’s lean action classic really needed was a car chase so we get a pointless car chase on the White House lawn with Tatum and Foxx in a bulletproof limo being chased by terrorists in Gatling gun-equipped SUVs.  While Big Gerry Butler was content to creep and skulk around his White House stabbing baddies in the heid, Tatum crashes a van into the Oval Office, Jamie Foxx’s POTUS reduced for most of the film to the traditional role of cocky black sidekick more worried about terrorists messing with his trainers than his country.  Seriously, in a moment of gobsmacking racism, in the midst of fighting for his life, Foxx stops to berate a terrorist for touching his Jordans.  WTF?  We can only be thankful that the scenes of him shooting hoops in a hoodie, eating fried chicken and drinking malt liquor while singing Camptown Races were left on the cutting room floor. 

The performances for the most part are bland and there’s little sparkle between Tatum and Foxx.  Tatum’s likable enough but unmemorable, he’s just Magic Mike with a bigger weapon and there’s something rather distasteful about the fact that his character basically whores himself for a job interview, offering to sleep with the pretty but disposable agent who pulls some strings for him and later in the film dies unmourned and unremarked.  Her death’s simply a callous moment that leaves a bad taste in the mouth.  Foxx meanwhile looks uncomfortable, like he’s itching to get his hands on an assault rifle and open up a can of whoop-ass, only a brief, warm scene with Joey King’s Emily hinting at the charismatic, principled President while Maggie Gyllenhall is criminally wasted as cinema’s most inept head of the Secret Service.  While not as boring as the heroes, bad guys Jason Clarke and James Woods have little to do other than chew the scenery while the wonderful Jimmi Simpson plays every eccentric computer hacker you’ve ever seen right down to the lolly-sucking and the Mozart appreciation.  Their plans however are continually thwarted not by Tatum and Foxx but by tweenage Nancy Drew King who’s the smartest, most resourceful character in the film though the idea of an intelligent, savvy, politically engaged American 11-year-old is perhaps the hardest, most unrealistic thing to swallow in the film. 

So empty you could hold it up to your ear and hear the ocean, White House Down is dumb, noisy, instantly forgettable fun.   

VERDICT: [rating=2]

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