President Obama took over as the United States’ Chief Executive Office during a turbulent period in our nation’s history. It’s been rough, but even fictional black presidents rarely get to enjoy times of peace. Morgan Freeman has twice witnessed the destruction of the White House as President/President Pro-Tempore (third in line of succession) and Danny Glover was crushed by a wave outside the Oval Office in 2012. Considering director Roland Emmerich’s penchant for blowing up the White House, you’ll forgive Will Smith for turning down a role as POTUS in the Independence Day sequel.
Seventeen years ago, it only took ten seconds for Emmerich to incinerate the White House. For White House Down, he cast Jamie Foxx in another role Smith wanted no part of and slow-cooked it for 132 minutes.
In the past four months, there have been dueling blockbuster scripts involving a single Secret Service agent rescuing the President and White House from global terrorists. The difference between this and March’s Olympus Has Fallen is that at least Emmerich appears to be in on the joke. Instead of going with straitlaced Aaron Eckhart and establishing a somber tone, he drafted a quippy ex-comic (Foxx) to play President James Sawyer. Another sly inside joke was casting Fancy (Garcelle Beauvais) from the Jamie Foxx Show as the rarely seen First Lady. Foxx also supplemented his inconsistent Obama impersonation with a few trademark pauses, hand movements and a Nicorette addiction.
It’s not a complete parody, but if mindless action flicks are your thing then you’ll get a kick out of John Cale (Channing Tatum) going into John McClane mode after getting rejected for a job with the Secret Service. As a consolation prize, he sticks around to go on a White House tour with his daughter, Emily(Joey King). She provides the emotional impetus that drives Cale into action and predictably enough, her identity as Cale’s daughter is a vital component in the final act.
The plot was a mix of elements and cliches from action flicks of the past combined with a gluttony of Emmerich’s trademark disaster porn. Terrorists attack the White House with the aid of insiders within the administration, some unlucky regular guy gets thrust into unusual circumstances, becomes a reluctant hero and loosely protected nuclear codes get hacked within seconds by an NSA hacker who was not played by Robert Snowden.
Filmmakers love to make overtaking the White House look like taking candy from a baby. As with any film that involves infiltrating the White House, the Secret Service comes across as incredibly inept. In the midst of a lockdown, a small militia led by Zero Dark Thirty’s Jason Clarke quickly takes out the Presidential Detail, execute several Cabinet VIPs and top it off with a zinger.
Immediately after one terrorist kills the Secretary of Defense, this facetious exchange ensues.
"You just killed the Secretary of Defense!"
"Well, he wasn't doing a very good job."
Leon Panetta just squirmed in his seat. The film has shades of Air Force One, but for some reason these amateur terrorists with a heart never actually use the hostages to their advantage.
Instead President Sawyer and Cale singlehandedly thwart elite mercenaries and save a fragile United States government from starting World War III while a silver-haired James Woods, playing a pivotal role as head of the Secret Service turned traitor, stews angrily for 90 percent of the film. Meanwhile, Richard Jenkins plays the tempered Speaker of the House/interim President after Sawyer and his V.P. are believed to be dead.
I walked in expecting a corny action flick and while White House Down had its moments, that’s exactly what I got. M Night Shyamalan would love a flick like this. There are a plethora of twists, but none of them are set up very well and don’t have the desired effect. Ultimately, this was tailored around Foxx and Tatum’s cult of personality. Unfortunately, White House Down should be referred to as Emmerich’s Drone Program after it bombed at the box office on opening weekend.
Emmerich alludes to the military industrial complex, World War III and military sacrifice throughout the film. If you want to sacrifice for your country, go see this film. If not save your money and go see World War Z.