True confession. Always full of mischief and mayhem, Roland Emmerich movies are guilty pleasures for me. An admittedly cheesy entertainer who aims squarely for the mainstream, the German maestro stages action with flair and delivers superior visual effects–big, small, live-action and digital. When he connects–as he did with old-style effects adventure “Independence Day” (1996) and the weather-gone-amok disaster epic “The Day After Tomorrow” (which seems to be coming true), he makes multitudes of moviegoers very happy. Even “2012” was an enjoyable E-ride if you threw any real-world logic out the window.
But when Emmerich misses, as with the 1998 disaster “Godzilla,” which was made before the VFX were ready to deliver the gigantic monster (see “Pacific Rim” this summer), or the ludicrously silly “10,000 B.C.,” he does so by a mile. While the modestly-budgeted Shakespeare identity mystery “Anonymous” made dramatic mistakes that crashed the movie at the 2011 box office, it marked an extraordinary accurate recreation of the period via innovative VFX.
Emmerich’s return to destroying the president’s residence in “White House Down” is somewhere in the middle. I would welcome the return of Channing Tatum and Joey King as a kick-ass father/daughter team, and count me among “Zero Dark Thirty” star Jason Clarke’s admirers–his performance as the rogue leader of a lethal paramilitary assault team is dangerous and flawless. As long as the movie keeps moving with helicopters crashing and guns blazing, all’s well; it’s fun watching the interior of the White House get trashed as Tatum’s would-be secret service agent fights to protect his iPhone-wielding daughter and his president (Jamie Foxx, who should have turned down this thankless role).
Unfortunately, directing dialogue is not Emmerich’s strong suit, and most of the babble from the folks outside the White House who are trying to wrest control from a band of terrorists is utterly unbelievable. That Tatum shines in this messy movie is a testament to his rising stardom. He was the only actor to emerge from Ron Howard’s “The Dilemma” intact. He’s had an amazing year, from Steven Soderbergh’s “Magic Mike” and “Side Effects” to comedy “21 Jump Street” and having Paramount delay “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” in order to expand his role. And Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher” is still to come.
This could be Tatum’s aha moment, like Tom Cruise in “Cocktail,” when he carries a bad movie. At my press screening, when Tatum stripped down to his wife-beater midway through the film, applause erupted. Tatum could be our next Cruise: that rare marquee movie star with chops, sex appeal and danger, who is equally beloved by men and women.
Review round-up below; by Friday it’s likely that “White House Down”‘s current 53% ranking on Rotten Tomatoes will go down.
[Channing Tatum’s] character is a carbon copy of Bruce
Willis’ wisecracking John McClane, right down to spending half the movie
working up a sweat in a wife-beater. But it’s a snug fit for Tatum, who strikes
the right balance between everyman screw-up and quick-thinking, fearless
dynamo, equally determined to rescue his daughter and protect the President.
And with its secret underground passageways, private chambers and
antique-adorned public halls and offices, the White House is a worthy successor
to Nakatomi Plaza, still the best of the Die Hard settings.
It’s open season on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue ― yet again ―
in Roland Emmerich’s “White House Down,” a slick, high-concept actioner that
has the unusual distinction of arriving several months after its
bargain-basement knockoff, Antoine Fuqua’s “Olympus Has Fallen.” Itself owing
much to such lone-man-of-action hallmarks as “Die Hard” and “Speed,” this
welcome throwback to an earlier, more generously entertaining era of summer
blockbusters delivers a wide array of close-quarters combat and large-scale
destruction, all grounded in an immensely appealing star turn by Channing Tatum
and ace support from imperiled POTUS Jamie Foxx. Though unlikely to rival
career-best Emmerich grossers “Independence Day” and “2012” in the outer
reaches of the box office stratosphere, pic should net a tidy profit for Sony,
helping to salve the still-fresh wounds of “After Earth.”
The cat-and-mouse game in “White House” goes on and on (the
movie runs for two hours and 17 minutes), growing more preposterous and silly
by the scene. This totally is the stuff of action movies, not real life.
It’s kind of fun, in a dopey way, for a while, but then it’s
just noise and firepower and boys with their toys.
As for the acting, Tatum proves a sturdy action hero,
stripping down to a sleeveless undershirt in record time and projecting
resolute concern. This guy is Aldo Ray all over again, only he’s going to have
a longer and more successful career.
With “White House Down,” he’s taken his signature
style and he’s hitched to a fairly pedestrian “Die Hard” ripoff of a
script. I try not to use the word “ripoff” often, but this movie
borrows so liberally from so many different sources that it should have been a
cast member in “The Bling Ring.” There’s a relationship between
Channing Tatum and Joey King, who plays his daughter, that follows almost the
same exact arc as the relationship between Jeff Goldblum and his daughter in
“The Lost World,” complete with the ridiculous payoff. James Woods is
playing Ed Harris in “The Rock” here, and he does exactly what he was
hired to do. It’s just that there’s no surprise to it. And the entire structure
with a normal guy caught inside a harrowing situation, dealing with the team
behind the incident and slowly realizing that they’re not after what it
initially seems like they’re after, is so very by-the-numbers “Die
Hard” that I’m surprised they didn’t add a “based on” credit to
the opening titles.
Surprising proof that Hollywood still can craft a memorable
studio comedy, Roland Emmerich’s White House Down stands as a singular
achievement in parody, its auteur’s intentions be damned. It’s not just a
pitch-perfect attack on every risible plot point afflicting today’s
all-exposition-and-explosion filmmaking, it’s also a mad liberal’s vision of an
America beset by white wingnut terrorists, set in a sketch-comedy White House
so broad that if you didn’t know Jamie Foxx was starring as its president you
might guess it to be Leslie Nielsen.
Perhaps afraid that watching a symbol of liberty repeatedly
go boom isn’t enough, Emmerich and screenwriter James Vanderbilt add family
drama, an attack on Congress, a plane crash and the possible nuking of the
Middle East. What isn’t tonally jarring ends up shatteringly inept.
It’s also much too much, especially after the similar (and,
in retrospect, better) “Olympus Has Fallen.” Here, complaining about 9/11-ish
imagery is like saying “Earthquake” was insensitive to earthquake victims: In
all the craziness, it’s hard to be offended.