The White House is under attack. Flames bellow from the Oval Office as armed militia storm one of the most iconic and important symbols of America, shooting anyone in a suit in their path. The American people and the surviving members of the cabinet watch in horror as the country teeters on the brink of disaster. It’s up to one man to fight the assault and save the President: a wannabe Secret Service agent played by hunky star Gerard Butler.
Wait … hold on a second. Sorry, it seems I’ve mixed up my "Olympus Has Fallen" notes from a couple months ago with my "White House Down" notes. Let’s try this again: The White House is under attack, and it’s up to one man (Channing Tatum) to fight the assault, save the President and convince potential viewers that no, this isn’t just a more expensive version of the same movie they saw three months ago.
It’s too bad "White House Down" will always be considered the knock-off (they both began filming last July), because it’s also easily the more entertaining of the two.
Tatum plays the all-American everyday hero with the action movie-approved name John Cale. In the middle of a failed job interview and White House tour with his history buff daughter (Joey King, who played the young Talia al Ghul in "The Dark Knight Rises"), a group of terrorists take over the building and plot to capture the President. A silver-haired James Woods plays the mastermind; Jason Clarke from "Zero Dark Thirty" is his steely second-in-command.
Luckily, Tatum does his best John McClane impression (he even strips down from his GQ-approved, undone top button suit and tie to a white wifebeater) and intervenes, saving the peace-seeking Commander-in-Chief, played by Jamie Foxx. With escape impossible, the two team up to fight the terrorists as James Vanderbilt’s script turns into a "Die Hard"-buddy cop lovechild (so "Die Hard with a Vengeance"), with Tatum playing the action savvy hero and Foxx as the stodgy, peace-seeking partner.
Even the most peace-loving of presidents, however, can get pushed too far, leading to, yes, repeatedly kicking a terrorist for touching his Jordans.
It’s silly, but unlike its predecessor, "White House Down" owns its silliness. The movie knows the concept of the White House getting taken over is audience pandering and frankly preposterous (you’d think the White House would be prepared for the "sneak-in-as-janitors" approach). So instead of playing it straight, they have fun, adding some much-needed humor and personality in between the exciting explosions and rehashed action movie clichés. And there are plenty of both.
There’s a big, ominous red-numbered countdown clock. There’s a punchably smug villainous techie and a heavy that looks like a skinnier version of Bennett from "Commando."
All of the characters are pretty much types. The down-on-his-luck hero/father, the noble figurehead, the exhausted ex-wife (barely worth mentioning) and the cocky military head who midway through the movie makes a dumb decision despite everyone knowing it’s a bad idea all make their scheduled appearances.
Vanderbilt and disaster-happy director Roland Emmerich ("2012," "Independence Day") follow the "Die Hard" playbook pretty closely, and when they’re not pulling from that ’80s classic, they’re copying Emmerich’s own tried-and-true blockbuster formula.
This was the same problem with "Olympus Has Fallen," but it’s amazing what a little charisma and energy can do for a movie. While its older sibling simply took the bare bones outline from its obvious inspiration, "White House Down" adapts its structure and its spirit. As a result, it plays less like a bland rip-off and more like an enthusiastically entertaining throwback.
Even though he’s been scaled back from having the entire globe as his explosive plaything to a single building, Emmerich still stages several satisfying adrenaline-fueled gunfights and fireballs. It is PG-13, but the action is still gleefully destructive, tense and exciting.
Most importantly, he has a likeable lead duo that is a lot of fun together. Tatum and Foxx aren’t exactly extraordinary actors, but they’re above-average movie stars with above-average buddy chemistry on screen. They make Vanderbilt’s good banter and quips pop, and his dopier lines, uh, less dopey (Foxx can’t do too much with some of his character’s finger-pointing speeches against the military-industrial complex, which sound like they were pulled from a very special episode of "Captain Planet").
They’re clearly having fun, and I did too, even if my brain kind of hated me for it afterward. If "Olympus Has Fallen" was the rote, by-the-books first part of a Fourth of July fireworks show, then "White House Down" is the grand finale, with everything thrown into the air and blown up in the name of mindless entertainment.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published Sept. 3, 2015
Every year, I think that there's no way the Milwaukee Film Festival can put together another lineup as strong as the year before, and every year, I'm proven wrong. 2015 is no different. Here are 10 of the movies I'm most looking forward to once the end of the month comes around.
Published Sept. 2, 2015
"The Room" is a not bad movie. Bad movies are nothing special to Hollywood; one comes out pretty much every weekend. No, "The Room" is more like an unholy miracle of awful filmmaking, a movie that fails so incredibly hard it becomes an almighty success in the process. The new cult classic is coming to the Oriental Theatre this weekend, so we asked its creator Tommy Wiseau a few questions. And no, not "So anyway, how's your sex life?"
Published Aug. 31, 2015
The former Goldmann's Department Store is in the process of becoming the new home to the Gerald L. Ignace Indian Health Center. As a part of the renovation process, however, its iconic sign was taken down. After spending some time for sale in the construction lot, the popular Milwaukee and Mitchell Street landmark has found a new home. But, not in Milwaukee.
Published Aug. 27, 2015
Growing up, the Bay View-based toy maker Peggy Brown has plenty of memories of the classic board game Operation - and her family didn't even own it. Decades later, Brown - along with her friend and fellow toy maker Tim Walsh - are trying to give something back to the man whose legendarily buzz-worthy game gave them so many fun times and fond memories over the years with the documentary "Buzz Heard 'Round the World."
Published Aug. 27, 2015
Considering its reputation as Milwaukee's haunted bar, Shaker's Cigar Bar, located at 422 S. 2nd St., certainly knows a thing or two about old stories coming to life. After giving plenty of historical tours through the years and guiding eager guests to some of the city's ghosts, bar owner Bob Weiss and marketing director Amanda Morden are hoping they've found a new way to resurrect some of Milwaukee's old tales of yore: Hangman Radio.
Published Aug. 26, 2015
Now, with their Internet comedy series "Shangri-L.A.," Milwaukee-grown filmmakers Drew Rosas and Nick Sommer ("Billy Club," "Pester") are the latest to go in search of the worldly utopia. Well, kind of, as the search for dreams brings them to the very real city of Los Angeles - and to Kickstarter to help finish the 11 episode production.
Published Aug. 25, 2015
Yes, the Packers will probably be just fine without Jordy Nelson, who's done for the year with a significant right knee injury. But sometimes, you just need to grieve ... with a collection of Dubsmashes from Olivia Munn and Aaron Rodgers from before the injury that eerily fit this time of great sadness.
Published Aug. 23, 2015
If you're planning on riffing off of one of Hollywood's greatest director's greatest movies, you better know what you're doing. Luckily, the man behind "Phoenix" is the extremely talented German director Christian Petzold, who smartly takes a touch of Hitchcock and twists it into an impressive project all of his own, a brilliantly crafted modern post-war noir carefully cloaked in mystery that slowly but satisfyingly burns to a quiet fireworks display of a finale.
Published Aug. 22, 2015
The jazzy retro style of Guy Ritchie's "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." is slinky fun, but enjoy it while you can because, like a toddler, if you take your eyes off it for a second to grab your drink or glance at your watch or merely blink, it is gone, a whooshing little breeze where it once used to be on screen and in your mind. The projector might as well be one of those neuralizers from "Men in Black."
Published Aug. 19, 2015
Dieter Sturm may not be a household name, but for about 30 years, his work has been all over some of your favorite Hollywood movies. Yes, fitting for a Wisconsinite, Sturm's business is snow, and when a Hollywood production needs to call in anything from a flurry to a blizzard, Sturm and his Lake Geneva-based company Sturm Special Effects bring the storm.