So, we rented a serious movie and a silly movie.
I’ll let you decide which one you think White House Down is.
Wannabe Secret Service Agent John Cale (Channing Tatum) turns out to be the only man who can save the President (Jamie Foxx) when bad guys take over the White House!
1. This movie is totally ridiculous. Let’s get that out of the way. It is utterly, hysterically ridiculous. It is ludicrous on an epic scale.
I like it anyway.
When I initially saw the trailer for this film, I was not impressed because I haven’t enjoyed a Roland Emmerich film in over a decade — and also because it had the same plot as Olympus Has Fallen, which looked pretty awful. But then I saw a few more trailers and I couldn’t help but notice that this film, at least, appeared to have a sense of humor, which really makes all the difference sometimes. I don’t know if the movie’s quite self-aware enough to be considered an outright parody, but it certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I enjoyed that. At 137 minutes, White House Down IS longer than it needs to be, but the time goes by relatively fast, and I had a pretty good time watching it.
2. Which isn’t to say I’m not going to mock the shit out of the CGI and green screen, though. Because my god, is it BAD.
It’s not like I expected this movie to actually be made on the White House lawn, but Jesus, guys. Those helicopters alone are pretty terrible, to say nothing of the buildings in what I assume is supposed to be downtown D.C. This movie had a pretty gigantic budget — is this really the best you could do, or did you want the audience to laugh at how terrible it looked? Because I did. A lot.
3. Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx have pretty good chemistry, which is probably the best thing this movie has going for it.
Channing Tatum, in particular, has a great sense of comedic timing, and I had a good time watching
his arms him run all around the White House, blowing shit up and trying to save the President. Jamie Foxx is a little hard to take seriously at some points, particularly later in the movie when he seems increasingly less presidential, but I kind of figured that was part of the fun. Besides, I’ve seen Air Force One. I’m not sure Foxx makes the most ridiculous fictional president to ever grace the big screen. (Man, if you haven’t seen Air Force One, you have to watch this, assuming you don’t mind being spoiled for a mid-90’s action movie. This just cracks my shit up. A lowly growled, “Get off my plane,” followed by triumphantly soaring patriotic music. I. Am. Dying.)
4. Actually, this movie has a pretty impressive supporting cast that I hadn’t been anticipating: Jake Weber, Matt Craven, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jimmi Simpson, James Woods, Richard Jenkins, Lance Reddick, Devil from Justified. (Okay, I can’t remember his real name right now.) There’s a lot of talent in that lineup, which is always good to see. Sometimes people forget how important a good supporting cast can be.
5. Although I kind of wish we got the chance to see Maggie Gyllenhaal do something particularly action-y.
Obviously, not every strong female character needs to be a badass in leather, but she is playing a Secret Service agent. It wouldn’t hurt to have her punch someone at least once.
On a weird semi-related note, this is the third movie I can think of in the last couple of years where a female character tries to talk a male action hero through a dangerous situation. There’s also Source Code and Unstoppable. (I STILL have trouble thinking of that movie as anything other than ‘Runaway Train.’) It’s not a complaint, exactly, just . . . is this some kind of trend? Can you guys think of other movies that fit this pattern, or movies that reverse the gender roles?
6. Before watching this film, I’d heard people refer to it as “Die Hard in the White House,” but I hadn’t anticipated just how many similarities there would be. I will detail these similarities in the Spoiler Section, but let me assure you: there are a LOT of them.
7. While I’ve been tired of ‘workaholic, screwup and/or deadbeat daddy tries to reconnect with his bratty child’ stories for about, oh, seventeen years now, I eventually forgive this movie for being exactly that, I guess because I like Channing Tatum and Joey King — who plays his precocious and politically obsessed daughter — enough to let it go. Still. We could try not framing our action movies with this storyline for just a little while, and I’d be cool with that. Just for a change of pace, mind.
8. There’s a moment where Jamie Foxx, hiding from the bad guys in the Residence, looks over his shoe collection and skips past all the shiny black loafers in favor of some bright red Reeboks. Excellent. I may have little use for the inevitable, “Get . . . your . . . hands . . . off . . . my . . . Reeboks” line — it’s hard to get the ‘hittingbetween each word’ joke right, and this movie fails at it twice — but I approve of a man who picks appropriate footwear. Good priorities, man. Good priorities.
9. Also of incredibly minor note: Jamie Foxx plays President James Sawyer, and as a LOST fan, I can’t help but find that name amusing.
10. Finally, the best moment in the whole film is almost certainly this one:
There’s nothing like watching the President of the United States lean out of a limousine and fire a rocket launcher at the gates of the White House. Mekaela and I were dying, we were laughing so hard.
If that kind of thing doesn’t strike you as funny, this particular movie probably isn’t for you.
Okay, here’s the White House Down/Die Hard breakdown:
- Hero named John
- Hero John eventually strips down to a dirty wifebeater
- Hero John has a female family member taken hostage
- Hostage’s relationship to Hero John is kept secret from the bad guys until the near end of the film
- The Bad Guy’s Right-Hand-Man wants revenge for first fallen henchman
- Total failed helicopter assault on hostage takers
- Before they all die, friendly helicopters shoot at Hero John (sadly, he never actually says, “I’m on your side, assholes!”)
- Good guys tank gets hit while seemingly stuck trying to move up and over an obstruction. (In this case, I think it’s a curb?)
- Bad Guy’s demands are just a smokescreen for a secret agenda
- Funny hacker guy working on unlocking computer for Bad Buy’s secret agenda
- Bad Guys like junk food. (Okay, well, one does. The other passes because he’s diabetic.)
Clearly, someone worships at the altar of John McTiernan and Bruce Willis.
Now. John is a police officer at the Capitol who provides protection for the Speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins). We know Richard Jenkins is a secret bad guy pretty quick because, well, because he’s played by Richard Jenkins, honestly, and it would be kind of a wasted role on him if there wasn’t more to his character than meets the eye. But we especially know he’s a bad guy when he glances at his pager in the beginning of the film and goes, “It’s going to be a busy day,” or something like that. I kind of wish this part hadn’t been in the movie — or, if it had to be in there for foreshadowing purposes, that we saw a lot of characters looking at their pagers or cell phones or something so it just wasn’t so obvious. But whatever.
John takes his daughter, Emily, to the White House — basically as a bribe because she’s pissed at him for missing her talent show — but also because he has an interview for a Secret Service job. The interview is basically a last-minute favor from a friend, which I guess is why Carol (Maggie Gyllenhaal) isn’t even a little prepared to interview him — like it isn’t until she bumps into him in the hall that she realizes she already knows her interviewee, despite the fact that she has his file in her hand.
Which, honestly, is such bullshit. I refuse to believe that the Secret Service would ever interview someone without doing an incredibly thorough background check on them first. I mean, come on, guys. It’s not like we’re just meeting a friend of a friend for a job at Macy’s or something.
Also, I’m not actually sure why writer James Vanderbilt bothers creating a past history between the two of them in the first place. Carol doesn’t believe in John because she knew him in college, and he was a big slacker back then who didn’t finish things — but she easily could have dismissed him for plenty of other reasons without getting in the way of his dual ‘all you need is a dream’ and ‘look how responsible I can become’ arcs. At first, I just figured they were setting her up as a love interest, but the movie never really goes that way, nor does John end up back together with his stereotype of a mildly nagging ex-wife. Of course, I’m perfectly okay with an action movie that doesn’t have a love interest, but it seemed a little weird to introduce two such obvious potential ones and then never really do much with either of them.
Anyway, Carol dismisses John out of hand. John lies to Emily that there’s a chance, which she excitedly tells the President when she briefly meets him on the tour. President Sawyer leans in and whispers to John, “Stop lying to children,” which made me laugh. Meanwhile, the evil, retiring, and secretly dying head of the Secret Service, Walker (James Woods), sends Carol home — because she has a vagina — before getting some mercenaries to detonate a bomb in the Capital. Walker then crashes the White House, supposedly for the President’s safety, while his henchmen pop out of their hiding places. All the good secret service agents are killed, while all the civilians are rounded up and held hostage . . . except for John, of course.
John escapes to go find Emily, who left right before Walker crashed the White House for a bathroom break. On his way to rescuing her, John ends up rescuing the President instead, while Emily gets caught videoing the bad guys. And then there’s a whole bunch of action shit that goes on. I’m not recapping all that.
Here’s the stuff I need to talk about:
1. The Vice President — along with his annoying aide guy from House M.D., the woman who got John the interview in the first place, and a bunch of other nameless people — go up in the air for safety. The VP’s encouraged to invoke the 25th Amendment and take over the Presidency, which he does after it appears that President Sawyer and John have been killed. This is when Mekaela — who got it first, damn her — figured out why Richard Jenkins was a bad guy. Soon after Sawyer takes the presidency, Air Force One is shot out of the air, and everyone dies, leaving our Speaker as the new president.
1A. Jenkins plays this moment straight, like he isn’t a mustache-twirling villain, and it’s beautiful. He has the very best, noncomprehending, “What?” when Lance Reddick gravely informs him that the Vice President has been killed, and the Speaker now has a new job title again. Richard Jenkins is the best.
1B. I feel a little bad for the woman who got John that interview, considering that nobody ever mentions her again after she dies. I’m not saying John or Carol had time for a moment of prayer or anything. She was just kind of funny, and I was like, Aw. That’s sad. I’m sure someone somewhere is mourning you, honey.
2. Walker’s plan all along is to launch a nuclear weapon against Iran — who President Sawyer is just about to seal a controversial peace deal with — because his son died in the war, and we shouldn’t be negotiating with these terrible people, and everyone needs to see America as the strongest and the best, and blah, blah, blah, crazycakes.
2A. One decently attractive mercenary is not at all excited about this plan to launch nuclear weapons, which is smart of him. Unfortunately, he then decides the best course of action is to tell Crazy Walker he’s not doing this shit and then turn his back on him like the walking Darwin Award he is. Not surprisingly, he is quickly killed.
2B. To launch the nuclear weapons, the President has to put his hand on this box. Walker tells President Sawyer to do this. Sawyer refuses. Walker puts his gun to Emily’s head and asks again. Sawyer, in a surprisingly awesome moment of priorities, tells Emily he’s sorry and explains why he can’t do it. Not that I want Emily to get killed, you understand, but . . . you know . . . it’s still the right call.
2C. Emily dies. No, I’m just fucking with you. Of course she doesn’t die. I think this is when Channing Tatum sets the White House on fire, and in the ensuing sprinkler chaos, Walker grabs Sawyer and forces his hand down on the box. I feel like there should be some kind of safeguard against this.
Oh, also, Walker shoots Sawyer. Sawyer lives, though, because the bullet hits his special Abraham Lincoln pocket watch. Man, I was just starting to think they didn’t do this trope anymore. Because it’s idiotic.
3. Meanwhile, our hacker, Skipp Tyler (Jimmi Simpson), is killed when he tries to leave through the tunnels.
There’s a bomb on this gate, and when he tries to get past it, it blows up in his face. Here’s my problem: Skipp totally knows about the bombs. It’s not like he accidentally ran across them. In fact, earlier dialogue suggests he’s the one who set them in the first place. So . . . why couldn’t he get past them again? I feel like I must be missing something here. I’m not saying there aren’t dudes who accidentally blow themselves up with their own bombs, but come on. This is pretty lame. Maybe I’m particularly annoyed because I like Jimmi Simpson, but I don’t know. Skipp could have been killed half a dozen other ways that would have made more sense, and I wouldn’t have had a problem with it. (Even though a REAL Die Hard fan would obviously make Donnie the Tour Guide just knock Jimmi out instead.) Unless someone sabotaged it so Skipp couldn’t escape, this makes little sense to me.
4. Instead, Donnie the Tour Guide (who’s simply the closest I can think of to an Argyle equivalent) takes out Devil from Justified in another one of those ill-advised ‘I-am-hitting-you-between-every-word’ jokey-kills. I usually like it when the not-action-hero side character steps up to the plate, but for some reason I couldn’t help but focus on the fact that even the skinny, fussy guy obsessed with the White House art collection gets more action time than our female secret service agent. Sigh. Man, even Reginald VelJohnson got to shoot somebody in Die Hard.
5. The Speaker orders an airstrike against the White House in an effort to cover up any evidence linking him to what’s happened. Carol tells John he has eight minutes to save his daughter before it comes. Minutes until airstrike actually comes: sixteen.
6. Emily, who’s talent was flag-twirling in that show John missed, picks up a giant flag from the Oval Office and waves off the planes. I’ll be honest: I totally missed the whole talent show callback at first because I was too focused on my strong flashback to The Rock:
Oh yeah. More spoilers for mid-90’s action films.
7. Finally, the President does this thing where his plane deviates from the flight plan and flies low through the city or something . . . which seems implausible at the beginning of the movie but fucking ridiculous at the end after he’s caught a shard of glass with his stomach. (And, also, been shot in the watch.) I don’t care what that man wants. The only place that plane is taking the President is to a secure location for medical attention, STAT.
But, whatever. The day is saved! Except for everyone who died in the White House, the Capital, and on Air Force One — those deaths were necessary sacrifices for John Cale to get a better job, dammit.
President Sawyer: “I lost the rocket launcher.”
Cale: “You lost . . . how do you lose a rocket launcher?!”
Cale: “Special Agent Todd keeps making those sounds, I’m gonna start looking at him.”
Walker: “You just killed the Secretary of Defense.”
Stenz: “Well, he wasn’t doing a very good job.”
(watching President Sawyer with a rocket launcher)
Kellerman: “That’s something you don’t see every day.”
Stenz: “No, I don’t want cake. I’m diabetic!”
Speaker: “This country is stronger than one house.”
Cale: “Where’s my daughter?”
Stenz: “She’s right here with me in the Oval Office, so why don’t you come down here and get her?”
Donnie: “What are you going to do?”
Cale: “What do you think?”
Emily: “Nobody says blog anymore, John.”
John: “What do you mean they don’t say blog? I just learned blog!”
Cale: “Tell me you have some weapons in the Residence.”
President Sawyer: “No. We usually have two agents there with machine guns. We’ve got some knives in the kitchen.”
President Sawyer: “They’re big knives.”
Ludicrous nonsense, but with a decent sense of humor and a good cast.
Saving the President of the United State is an awesome way to get your daughter to love you again.
Also: pack your Reeboks. And your pocket watch. Appropriate footwear is key, and your iPhone ain’t saving your heart from shit.