For a brief, shining moment back in 2011, it looked as though director Roland Emmerich was finally ready to leave behind the monotony of blowing up everything in sight in nearly every movie he made by making the fascinating Shakespeare drama “Anonymous.” This underrated film showed that he was quite capable of going beyond the previous films he’d made like “The Day After Tomorrow,” “Godzilla,” and “2012.” However, that brief moment seems to have passed as he’s now gone back to his old bag of tricks, showing us that he’s not quite ready to give up the basic template that brought him great success.
Emmerich’s latest outing, entitled “White House Down,” involves a young security agent, Cale (Channing Tatum), who works as a guard for the Speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins). After getting an interview at the White House for a position on the Secret Service, he decides to bring his young daughter Emily (Joey King) along in the hopes that he can get back into her life. The interview itself doesn’t go very well given Cale’s past record, but he can’t bring himself to tell his daughter, who finds this kind of thing really cool.
While on a tour of the building, a bomb is detonated at the Capitol, which acts as a distraction for armed men to take over the White House. This just happens to occur when Cale is separated from his daughter, so in his desperation, he immediately tries to find her, but ends up running into the President (Jamie Foxx) instead, saving his life in the process. From here on out, Cale acts as a guard for the President while trying to track down his daughter. Meanwhile, the plot unfolds as the men who’ve taken the White House make their demands, threatening to kill their multiple hostages, which include cabinet members and tourists, if they’re not met.
I have to admit I was I little surprised by how “White House Down” turned out. It looked like another shoot-em-up with lots of explosions along the lines of any other action movie, and indeed it does end up being mostly that, but I was pleasantly surprised to find out just how funny the movie was. For an action picture, it was good to see that the writer, James Vanderbilt, was able to incorporate some good one-liners into the film in order to make it move a little quicker than it might have if it had just been solid action. Though, to be fair, I do have to point out that not all of the hilarious moments were intentional.
There are moments where it thinks it’s being clever when it’s really not. For instance, early on we’re introduced to one of the President’s top advisors, Walker (James Woods), who I guess we’re supposed to believe is completely loyal to the President, but suddenly turns on him part way into the attack on the White House. This might have been surprising, if the writer hadn’t felt the need to reveal the fact that Walker was going to do something from the start, so instead of shock, all the audience can do is sit there and laugh at the flat reveal.
There are other moments that fall into this category, as well as the category of things you really have to stretch your imagination to believe. For one thing, the entire premise is based on these men taking over the White House by bringing in several high-powered guns, as well as a bomb into the Capitol. In this case, we’re supposed to believe that security was so lax in both locations that all of this was able to happen, and that the armed guards in the White House could be taken out in just a few minutes. It’s a lot to swallow, but it’s another one of those things that, if it’s not allowed to happen, no matter how little sense it makes, there wouldn’t be much of a movie.
Later on in the film, we’re supposed to believe that the President’s nuclear launch codes are still active despite the presidency having been passed on due to the cabinet thinking that the current President is dead. I know they’re trying to build up suspense for the big climax, but when it’s done this lazily, the effect doesn’t end up being as big as it might have been had they actually taken the time to think of a more logical climax. Though I supposed asking for logic in a movie like this is comparable to asking the folks of the “Fast & Furious” films to obey the laws of physics.
Turning to the performances, it was a little surprising to find that Channing Tatum was not as annoying as he usually is, but I think that this was due to the fact that the film had a lot of humor in it, which is actually one of Tatum’s strengths. His action movies tend to turn out disastrous, but as he showed in “21 Jump Street,” he can actually be a pretty funny guy, so go figure Tatum is at his best when “White House Down” is at its funniest.
Jamie Foxx, Academy Award winner for his brilliant performance in “Ray,” is a great actor, and he does a satisfactory job here, but he doesn’t leave much of an impact when all is said and done. This could be because he doesn’t really exude a presidential personality, making him seem like an odd choice for the role. When we think back to other disaster film presidents, we find people like Morgan Freeman (“Deep Impact”), Bill Pullman (“Independence Day”), and Danny Glover (“2012”), all of whom seem like they really could be the president. This is not a feeling that one really gets with Foxx, but, as I mentioned, he does a decent enough job in the undemanding role.
The film really was a lot funnier than I expected, but that’s not enough to stop it from being just another big, dumb action flick. Like many of its predecessors, it’s too long and stretched out, running a bloated 131 minutes, much of which is filled with gunfire and explosions. It’s strange though, the film is a little better than it has a right to be. It’s not recommendable, but nor is it the disaster I thought it was going to be. What it ends up being is a humorous, forgettable, exploding, mundane romp. For some people, I suppose that will be enough. For others, it’ll merely be another disaster in Emmerich repertoire. For me, it’s somewhere in between, with a hope that Emmerich will put his talents to better use in the future.
The film is presented in a 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that's unfortunately dark, dull, and blurry for the most part. It's particularly frustrating because the majority of the film takes place inside the dimly-lit White House. However, even the scenes taking place in broad daylight show the same symptoms. The 5.1 Dolby Digital audio is very soft, so you're definitely going to have to turn it up a bit to hear the dialogue clearly. It would've been nice if they had taken the time to give it a boost in quality in both areas, but given that this is a DVD, perhaps this is the best they could do.
A Dynamic Duo: A brief featurette that has the cast and crew talking about how great they think Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx are. Not really anything to be learned about the film here.
Man of Action: Another brief featurette telling us how Tatum liked to perform a lot of his own stunts and how the cast and crew were really impressed at his willingness to do so. Again, not much to be learned about the film.
Roland Emmerich - Upping the Ante: A featurette that has the cast and crew glorifying the director and telling us how great it was to work with him. Still nothing to be learned about the film itself.
Meet the Insiders: A quick featurette telling us about some of the supporting players with a main focus on James Woods. Do I really need to say it a fourth time?
While the film itself may have been somewhat close to a recommendation, these very bland special features and the poor quality of the DVD itself only manage to sink this release further into the negative. Perhaps it would have been recommendable on Blu-ray given the usual superior quality and the much wider array of extras, but unfortunately on DVD there's simply not much to recommend about it at all.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
Recent Blu-ray/DVD releases: The Way, Way Back, Only God Forgives, Drug War, A Hijacking, American Horror Story: Asylum, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Curse of Chucky, Fantastic Voyage, The Croods, This is the End, Halloween: 35th Anniversary Edition
Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.
This review is based on a copy of the DVD received for reviewing purposes.