Ever since its release in 1988, “Die Hard” has been the action movie that spawned a million imitators. It’s almost become a joke to those who pitch films… “It’s like Die Hard on an aircraft carrier!” (“Under Siege”). There’s Die Hard in a mall (“Point Blank”), Die Hard in a prep school (“Toy Soldiers”) and even Die Hard on a mountain (“Cliffhanger”)! Bonus points to “Executive Decision” which did Die Hard on a plane exactly 6 years after Renny Harlin did it in “Die Hard 2”. Ok, well that was Die Hard in an airport, but still… close enough. In any event, Roland Emmerich the man who brought us such shallow, yet enjoyable blockbusters as “The Day After Tomorrow” and “Independence Day” presents “White House Down” or Die Hard in The White House. Even if it’s not the deepest movie out there, it sure is a fun time.
The story is a simple one. John Cale (Channing Tatum) works security detail in D.C. and is trying to get hired by the Secret Service. With two tours in Afghanistan under his belt, he’s got the goods, but his past record shows a man who’s had trouble finishing anything he starts. That includes following through with his daughter Emily (Joey King) who all but hates his guts. As a way to butter her up after missing her talent show, Cale scores two tour tickets to The White House and brings her along on his job interview. Of course, today is the day when Martin Walker (James Woods), the head of the Presidential security detail brings in a group of mercenaries to stage a coup. When Cale’s tour group is taken hostage, he manages to escape and crosses paths with the big man himself, President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx). With 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. being the fortress it is, the terrorists are managing to keep everyone out. The bigger problem, however, will be trying to keep John Cale and the P.O.T.U.S. in.
Ah… there are so many ways to compare this thing to that Willis movie, it’s not even funny. The protagonist is also named John. He wears a wife beater and has a family member held by the hostages (though they don’t know of the relation until late in the game and eventually use it to their advantage). The villain IS the smartest guy in the room.
Tatum doesn’t say “Yipee Ki-Yay,” though.
Another film that people will surely compare this to is “Olympus Has Fallen” which was released a few short months earlier. While I haven’t seen that movie to make any comparisons, I’d wager to say they’re like comparing “Armageddon” and “Deep Impact”. “Olympus” seemed to have heavier vibes than this, which is very much a fun Hollywood popcorn flick that ends all tied up pretty with a bow on it.
While Tatum doesn’t have gruff everyman feel that Willis had, he manages to do pretty well in the role of “Cale”. He balances out some of the heavier moments with humor, but he’s still very rigid and not entirely believable as a father of a teenager. Given the character is security and protecting the President, it works… and let’s face it, this isn’t Shakespeare. I do think that with every movie he gets better and better, but he just isn’t there yet. In the extras, Roland Emmerich applauds the actor and compares him to Steve McQueen. Not quite. It’s this distorted thinking that has the director thinking this is an action movie with a deep emotional center. I’m pretty sure Emmerich’s assistants have to keep him away from kiddie pools for fear he’ll dive into them.
Jamie Foxx is awesome portraying Sawyer, a thinly veiled Barack Obama. As I watched “White House Down”, my mind wandered off to “In Living Color” and how for the longest time Jim Carrey was the huge breakout from the show. Not so anymore, as Carrey doesn’t do a whole lot and Foxx has eclipsed him like a boulder before a chipmunk. Why? Because Jim Carrey could never turn down the volume. Foxx can and does. He presents his President with dignity and even when he’s funny, it’s a serious-funny. He never turns the character into, say Chris Tucker at any point. A rocket doesn’t take down a black hawk for him to yell “Day-um!”. Carrey would’ve distorted his face at least once in the film… even if he played it seriously the rest of the time. It might’ve been interesting to see him in Tatum’s role (he would’ve rocked it), but that would’ve likely meant a less effective actor playing the Pres.
The film is paced really well with the action pushing it along like a locomotive with the runtime of 131 minutes only feeling like 90. Even when things gets cheesy, it’s not enough to take you out of things as bullets and explosions are sure to soon follow. What’s really impressive is that the whole film was pretty much shot on soundstages and in front of blue screens. When you see attack helicopters tearing through downtown D.C., you’ll swear they’re real even though it’s all CG. While I’m a fan of practical effects, what the VFX team did here is truly amazing. It’s also incredible how the production designers managed to convincingly recreate The White House to the finest detail (only to have it all get blown up in combat).
Sony has put out another perfect 10 Blu-Ray in regards to sound and picture quality. The imagery is clear, clean and detailed. Colors are rich and full. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround track engulfs you with deep bass explosions, whizzing bullets and crystal dialogue coming through the center. They also went berserk with the extras, putting 14(!) featurettes on the disc. Granted, most of these run only a few minutes in length, but they’re very informative in lieu of a commentary track. “Recreating the White House” tells you exactly how they did it and “The Beast” shows you how they replicated the Presidential limo… with nothing more than a public photos to go off of. “The Inside Story” takes you on the breakneck 14 month journey from greenlight to wrap and “VFX Boundaries Down” pulls the curtain back on some of the CG magic used to make this thing look so good. Seriously, if you have a question about the production of “White House Down”, there’s a featurette to answer it.
“White House Down” scores 4 out of 5 reels for being the fun, mindless thrill ride that it is. You won’t walk away whistling “The Star Spangled Banner”, but you may smile at the notion that for once, the good guys won in Washington.
Or even at the idea that there are good guys in Washington.