"White House Down along with two hours of our lives
The first shot of adrenaline that hits the brain while watching director Roland Emmerich’s "White House Down" happens a little more then half way through the movie. It occurs during a car chase. The brain is triggered into action to decipher if what we are witnessing is a hint of genius, a new approach toward action movies or just pure stupidity. Then, as the cars are riddled with bullets, the brain begins to re-create the origin of this thrilling sequence: Movie Executive, "What this movie needs is a car chase!" Screenwriter, "But all of the action takes place within the confines of a house." Movie executive, "Not my problem!" As the cars complete their second lap around the fountain on the White House lawn forgotten childhood memories of Duck, Duck Goose materialize.
It’s just not the absurdity of the chase that stands out but also the originality. Anything original is needed in "White House Down" since the movie clearly follows, almost to the detail, the blueprint of director John McTiernan’s 1988 action movie "Die Hard" starring Bruce Willis. The similarities are uncanny. From the concept of the story- a group of heavily armed men take over a building with only one man to stop them- to the tiniest of details- first name and wardrobe of protagonist- the story is "Die Hard" in the White House. The filmmakers, to their credit, wanted to add a shot of emotion to their ending and since emotion is vacant in "Die Hard" they lifted a scene from the 1939 movie "Gunga Din."
The only other difference between the two movies is the protagonist himself. John McClane (Mr. Willis) was a cynical New York City cop. The McClane character of the earlier movies was a bit more flawed which made the action sequences more adventurous. His hand to hand combat skills were a bit sloppy, his handling of weapons was adequate but his survival skills were unquestionable. Even Mr. Willis’ unpolished acting style helped lend an everyday working man’s persona to McClane. John Cale (Channing Tatum) is a nice guy from small town U.S.A. Mr. Tatum, who is developing a consistency of strong performances, makes this character believable within an unbelievable context. Mr. Tatum doesn’t overdue it when his character has to face up to his amateurish parenting skills but can turn up the heat enriching the action sequences. Mr. Tatum, in fact, adds depth to this action hero.
John is put in the position, after failing to make the cut for the Secret Service, of having to protect The President (Jamie Foxx). Mr. Foxx’s portrayal of a President is another breath of fresh air squeezing itself out of an asthmatic production. This president isn’t a graduate of any Ivy League establishment nor does he possess any combat skills from previous tours of duty. He takes a stand against the military industrial machine which sets the story in motion. This President is strong when it comes time to shape the big picture but while being protected by John his survival skills are questionable which gives the action sequences their only sense of intrigue. When the time comes his moral clarity is apparent in the decisions he makes which focuses on the good of the whole instead of any individual in the movie. Keeping conventionality away from this President is a little bone the credited screenwriter James Vanderbilt ("Zodiac," "The Amazing Spider-Man") throws his audience.
The rest of the cast is formidable. They include heavyweights such as James Woods, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Richard Jenkins and Michael Murphy. Every one does what they can to fill a shell of a script with spirit but to no avail. With every turn Cale makes through the halls of the White House Mr. Vanderbilt and Mr. Emmerich evoke memories of "Die Hard." Cale and the President find refuge on top of an elevator of which the villains are transporting heavy artillery; a close associate of one of the villains is killed by Cale and seeks revenge; Cale is under assault by a villain and he takes cover under a kitchen counter; Cale has a fire fight with the enemy on the roof of the White House while the military begins an attack on the White House only to be stopped by the heavy artillery and there is even a computer geek (Jimmi Simpson), complete with nerdy glasses, whose task it is to break into and disable the national security system of the United States. With the memory of the original "Die Hard" growing strong it comes as a confused surprise to watch the car chase around the fountain. In a film of originality it would be subjected to ridicule and marked as nothing but a disciple of stupidity. But in a weak copy cat it is a relief.