‘White House Down’ stands alone, and not in a good way

By Gary Clift

The new movie “White House Down” is as much a near-joke as its title suggests. It is suspenseful and implausible, dull and silly, and political in a way anyone who has seen director Roland Emmerich’s earlier films would have guessed it would be.

Not that many movie fans sit around discussing his eco-apocalyptic films “2012” (about the world coming to an end) and “The Day After Tomorrow” (about hell freezing over).

He also made the good war movie “The Patriot,” and there are stretches in “White House Down” when the action carries all before it, as was the case in the 2000 film. Too bad “WHD” starts off with forty minutes setting up a partisan Roman a clef: President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) wants to reduce the armed forces in the way of our current president.

His veep is an older white guy (Michael Murphy). His enemies are white ex-military types working for the military-industrial complex. One wonders if Emmerich, who is a German, knows that it was President Eisenhower who warned the nation against that combine fifty years ago.

Sawyer’s main critic is a pudgy broadcaster who resembles Rush Limbaugh. The oddest moment in the film comes when that character is the only one willing to try to stop the shooting of the movie’s star, twelve-year-old White House tourist Emily (Joey “Ramona” King). The political commentator winds up wounded and not even dead, of course. No making of right wing martyrs is allowed.

Emily’s father is D.C. police officer Cale, played by the actor whose names appear to be Channing and Tatum. He takes his White House-trivia-fan daughter in with him for a Secret Service job interview, which goes badly, and then on to the tour. This just happens to be the day the well-informed mercenaries blow up the Capitol dome and take over the president’s home, snagging-sixty some hostages and killing all the armed guards.

By chance the President escapes capture, as do the Cales. Mr. Cale and the tennie-wearing leader of the free world escape into the elevator and dumb waiter shafts. Emily takes video of the mercenaries and sends it off onto the web. We shift back and forth between them.

And back and forth between the veep in Air Force One, a command headquarters at which military officers and the Speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins) congregate, Emily’s mother out on the lawn, the Oval Office in which stands the traitorous head of the Secret Service (James Woods), and a couple of different White House rooms and hallways where thugs are keeping the hostages, looking for the president, and decoding the nuclear launch codes.

To Emmerich’s credit, we don’t get confused about where we are when scenes are switched. Unfortunately none of the movie’s several explanations for what the rebels are doing ever makes enough sense.

And the President’s business is just plain silly. It makes sense to move Tatum (or is it Channing?) around so fast we don’t see him not acting. But Foxx can make any character likable if the director lets him. Here he has been mistaken for Chris O’Donnel.

After the dull start, then, there is a lot of silly, almost cartoonish action, a few places where the tread on the tire is bald, and then some more action, Ramona waving a flag on the lawn—not the American flag, though. And then results suddenly occur too neatly and with too little effort on the part of the defenders of freedom.

I’ve never seen anything like “White House Down.” Except for “Olympus Has Fallen” three months ago, which told the same story. But, then, that movie wasn’t quite as deep in its infatuation with the Camelot we call the White House. And it wasn’t any more satisfactory as a cinematic entertainment.

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