Regular readers of these pages know that I gave up watching preview trailers a long time ago. I like going to a movie knowing as little as possible beyond title, director and stars, hoping to be pleasantly surprised. But the title of this one served as a red flag. Didn’t I just see this movie?
Yup. I saw it on March 18. It was called Olympus Has Fallen, and it was about a bunch of North Korean nutballs violently taking over the White House. In my review I described it as a “flag-waving movie,” mentioned that Olympus is the code word for the White House, upon which there was a “coordinated attack,” wrote that demands were made and hostages were killed, and that a heroic former Army guy in the right place at the right time was involved in “one of those one-man-against-the-world deals.”
There’s not a lot of flag waving in White House Down, since the nutballs are American. But the White House again faces a coordinated attack. Demands are made, hostages are killed, and hoo boy, a heroic former Army guy in the right place at the right time is involved in “one of those one-man-against-the-world deals.”
Hell of a coincidence, don’t ya think? But Olympus was a pretty good movie. White House is not. It’s a sloppily made pastiche of thriller clichés that, although boasting a few passable action sequences, plays out sluggishly and never lets its characters get in the way of one more opportunity to set off big bursts of bullets.
The main ones include President Jamie Foxx, Capitol Police Force member Channing Tatum, Secret Service agents James Woods and Maggie Gyllenhaal, and pesky little-girl hostage Joey King as Tatum’s daughter.
One morning, John Cale (Tatum) heads to the White House to be interviewed for a Secret Service job, and it’s apparently “bring your daughter to interview day”; Walker (Woods) is resigning in a week; Finnerty (Gyllenhaal) hasn’t slept in a week; suspicious-looking guys skulk around the White House in maintenance outfits (with guns, silencers and masks in their pockets); and Speaker of the House Raphelson (Richard Jenkins) has a Herb Alpert song as his ringtone (yes, that’s important).
OK, it’s time for that coordinated attack, first on the Capitol, then on the White House. And there’s Cale — still jobless, but fortunately on a White House tour with his demanding daughter — grabbing a gun and doing what a hero is supposed to do against bad guys in an impossible-odds situation.
Why is all of this happening? The flip-flopping script first says it’s for big money. Then it’s blamed on an act of revenge. Or, hold on, it’s really due to political differences from within, concerning the world stage. Each explanation makes less sense.
If you’re into an Everyman stuck in an extraordinary-situation scenario, Tatum, who holds his own here, is your man. But no one else is of much interest. That happens in films by Roland Emmerich (The Day After Tomorrow, Independence Day), who’s known for destructive set pieces, rather than being an actor’s director. Yet the explosions, and obviously the effects budget, are markedly smaller here than in his previous movies. To top it off, this one just refuses to end, adding still more ridiculous complications even after the story has reached a passably satisfactory conclusion.
But at least we learn a few new terms: The president is referred to as “The Package”; people who want to kill him are part of the “Threat Matrix”; his private limo is called “Ground Force One”; and the code word for the White House in this version of the story is “The Castle.”