Sunday, 25 April 2021

Movie Review: White House Down (2013)

An action thriller about the attempted violent overthrow of the United States President, White House Down carves out territory on the knowing side of preposterous.

Army veteran and Capitol Police officer John Cale (Channing Tatum) is part of the security detail for Speaker of the House Eli Raphelson (Richard Jenkins). Cale's 11-year-old daughter Emily (Joey King) accompanies him to the White House, where Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal) of the Secret Service interviews Cale for a position on the President's security team. Father and daughter then join a White House tour.

United States President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) is seeking global support for a bold but controversial Middle East peace plan. But traitorous Senior Secret Service Agent Martin Walker (James Woods) has assembled a team of mercenaries to storm the White House and overthrow Sawyer's government. The mercenaries are led by Emil Stenz (Jason Clarke), and include psychotic white supremacist Killick (Kevin Rankin) and computer hacker Skip Tyler (Jimmi Simpson). 

The invaders take over the White House and seize hostages, demanding a $400 million ransom. Cale breaks loose and fights back, managing to extract Sawyer from Walker's clutches, while Emily captures and uploads video of the unfolding drama. Cale needs to keep Sawyer safe and rescue Emily as the full extent of Walker's plot becomes clear.

Silly, noisy, often stupid, overlong and saddled with graceless CGI, White House Down is also watchable because it never takes itself too seriously. While Olympus Has Fallen, also released in 2013 with a similar plot, is grittier and better, here director Roland Emmerich lets loose his (literal) flag-waving tendencies while destroying chunks of the White House (again), and whenever faced with a choice between subtle and ludicrous, chooses over-the-top. The entertainment level is of the brainless variety, but within that constraint, fun can found.

And so Cale and Sawyer engage in a ridiculous car chase, driving in circles around the fountain of the White House lawn. The bad guys alternate between one-shot, one-kill expediency and cross-eyed incompetence, depending on the script requirements. CGI-created machines crash at regular intervals in a horrible dissolution of unconvincing pixels, and any quip is a good quip, whether smart or sophomoric.

The extended preamble to introduce the characters and set the context is welcome. But the film is otherwise overlong at a wholly unnecessary 131 minutes, and despite the length, critical plot points are half-baked. It's deep into the crisis before Walker's real intentions are finally revealed in a jumbled rush, and until then the ransom demand is a limp excuse for the unfolding carnage.

The reliable cast is filled with talent and helps overcome some of the goofiness. Channing Tatum is up to the task of saving the day, and bites into the role of John Cale with grim determination to (in no particular order) keep the President safe, extricate his daughter from the clutches of maniacal seditionists, and earn himself a position with the Secret Service in the world's worst on-the-job interview. The White House may be down, but as long as a job can still be earned, it's not quite out.



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