‘White House Down’ Review – It Has No Intention of Breaking New Ground

It has been 19 years since the release of Stargate, the first release in what is a serious science fiction tale that has become a popular franchise. Roland Emmerich was at the helm for the financially successful James Spader / Kurt Russell adventure, two years before the blockbuster Independence Day. Where Stargate quadrupled its 55 million dollar investment to almost two hundred million dollars, Independence Day brought in about 817 million on a 75 million dollar budget, substantially more, but also the beginning of a troublesome trend for Emmerich, superfluous forced humor and in-your-face patronizing to everything from silly jokes to alcoholism, annoying stereotypes, grandiose self-importance all shaken, stirred and delivered to maximize revenue.

So with the Roland Emmerich name stamped on what every reviewer in the history of the cinema has figured out, that this is a blatant remake of Olympia Has Fallen, the March 2013 offering from director Antoine Fuqua and 300 star Gerard Butler, one might expect yet another 2012, The Day After Tomorrow or Godzilla. But keep in mind, on May 28, 1999, three years after Independence Day, Roland and his sister,Ute Emmerich, along with Marco Weber produced director Josef Rusnak’s brilliant and oft-forgotten The Thirteenth Floor, a smart revisit to The Matrix which emerged two months prior to The Thirteenth Floor. The Matrix was the blockbuster, the Thirteenth Floor relegated to doing a little better than breaking even. But it did show that Emmerich has a sense of the importance of sci-fi cinema and that he can take things seriously.

White House Down – 4 Minute Trailer:

Channing Tatum – Magic Mike himself – is reprising Gerard Butler’s role of reprising Bruce Willis as Officer John McClane. It pains me to even note this as every other critic in the world has to point the glaring fact out, but – as the film review in AARP notes – it is the lack of expectation from the audience that Emmerich uses to full effect. I rarely read other critics’ reviews when penning, my notes are usually written while the film unfolds, but it was so obvious that the references made in White House Down were just begging to work their way into an essay, well, what can one say? White House Down was released the weekend before the July 4th holiday in time for the 17th anniversary of the July 2 1996 release of Emmerich’s Independence Day. There’s even a reference to the older film as the Capitol building gets crushed/bombed/destroyed again (at least they didn’t cut and paste from the prior film.)

But as Bill Newcott of AARP alludes to, this does have the Golden Girls touch of knowing that Betty White and her friends were going to do before they do it; it was the delivery of Estelle Getty, Bea Arthur,Rue McClanahan and White that kept people tuning in.

Channing Tatum has parlayed his good looks into an all-business acting style – Arnold Schwarzenegger without the jokes; the oppositie of everything you don’t like about Matt Damon. James Woods is as mean here as he was in the Robert Zemeckis film Contact, actually meaner, while things break, get shot at, blow up and get swept into the whirpool of extreme mayhem. As redundant as it is slick, the sweeping camerawork is actually stunning and the larger-than-life visuals which you’ve come to expect from Emmerich give this high octane film a touch of class you weren’t expecting when you stepped into the theater. It’s a level of seriousness that Emmerich brought to his direction of Stargate and his production of the Thirteenth Floor, and what is surprising about it – in all its glorious redundance – its superabundance of redundance – is that when Emmerich gets down to business, when the actors – from Jamie Foxx to even child actress Joey King – all take their job seriously, the extremely absurd plot – already employed a few months back in Olympus Has Fallen (as stated above) – somehow keeps you glued to the edge of your seat.

Splashy, colorful and chock full of activity, White House Down is as implausible as 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow (not in theme, but in the filmmaker’s approach to real threats which he amplifies about a thousand times), it rises above those decent films to emerge as a kind of well-polished, exciting different dimension perspective on many themes that have come before. Like a hundred and fifty million dollar edition of the Marvel Comics series “What If?” White House Down has no intention of breaking new ground. It simply entertains, and, succeeds at doing that and more.

Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com, Gatehouse Media, Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, and a variety of other media outlets. Joe also produces and hosts Visual Radio, a seventeen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed Jodie Foster, director/screenwriter David Koepp, Michael Moore, John Cena, comics/actors Margaret Cho, Gilbert Gottfried, Gallagher, musicians Mark Farner and Don Brewer of Grand Funk Railroad, Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals, political commentator Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.