Shitty Movie Sundays: White House Down

Thank goodness for Roland Emmerich. If it weren’t for filmmakers like him, we’d all be stuck watching Terrence Malick and David Lynch films. Please, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not picking on Malick and Lynch for no reason. They’re great filmmakers, as are too many others to mention. But when I thought of great filmmakers whose work is a real slog to get through, those two names popped into my head. You lucked out this time, Werner Herzog.

My point is, there is film as art, and film as escapist adventure. Roland Emmerich resides fully in the latter, his main concern being spectacle. Because of that, his movies require no effort whatsoever to enjoy. And I do mean they require no effort. If a viewer puts effort into his movies, by doing something silly like figuring out how to resolve plot holes, or think through character development that Emmerich couldn’t be bothered with, then enjoyment will not be had during a Roland Emmerich feature film. He embraces in full the ethos behind the big-budget shitty movie (different from the low-budget variety, but still related). His box office numbers prove that most of humanity seems to, as well.

This is the man that blew up the White House with an alien laser beam, and visited apocalyptic destruction on New York City, not once, not twice, but thrice; one of those times using frickin’ Godzilla (lay off, fanboys — I know Emmerich’s film has been disavowed in the community, but that doesn’t mean it no longer exists). When he got bored messing with my town, he sunk SoCal into the Pacific Ocean in an orgy of CGI that left John Cusack insufficiently incredulous. Emmerich has been locked in a dance of death with Michael Bay for years for the title of King of the Shitty (big-budget division). Does Emmerich’s latest effort, White House Down, win him the crown?

Eh, who cares?

White House Down sure is fun, though. It had the misfortune to be released only a couple of months after Olympus Has Fallen, which, for all intents and purposes, is an identical film. But White House Down keeps its silly a bit more in check. Sure, it’s just as stupid. It’s a film about terrorists seizing the White House, and only John McClane…shit, I mean whoever the star is…can save the President of the United States. But Olympus Has Fallen seems to have forgotten that it is no longer the 1980s. White House Down does a better job with believability, and that is saying something, trust me. I’m not going to bother researching this, but I would not be in the least surprised if an early draft of Olympus Has Fallen or White House Down spent some time as a Die Hard project; maybe even a Schwarzenegger vehicle. The pedigree is there.

Anyways! White House Down!

It’s the near future. The 46th President of the United States, James William Sawyer (Jamie Foxx), has decided to pull all American troops out of the Middle East, a vast simplification of international relations that does enough to provide motive for a bunch of bad guys to launch an assault on the White House. A Capitol Police officer, John Cale (Channing Tatum), happens to be on site with his daughter when things go down. The Secret Service agents at the White House are quickly overpowered and killed, leaving John Cale standing between highly trained and heavily equipped terrorists and the president, with the prospect of World War III keeping things REALLY interesting.

Screenwriter James Vanderbilt threw a bit of a curveball with the terrorists. The bad guys in this one are mercenaries, disgruntled American soldiers…even a white power nut job. The expected boogeymen are nowhere in sight, thus protecting the movie’s international box office.

The terrorists are led by Jason Clarke as Stenz, a man who, not too long ago, played a CIA agent on the trail of Osama Bin Laden. Talk about opposite ends of the spectrum. In this movie, he wants President Sawyer dead.

The plot takes just about all the expected twists and turns of a film of this type. It even ends exactly as one would expect. Halfway through, I found myself actually thinking this was a good action movie, all ridiculousness aside. But, as time wore on, the stupid just kept piling up, along with a whole lot of lame fan service, and the film’s quality began to go down. A shorter running time may have helped things, but I’m not so sure.

I thought I knew exactly what I was going to get when I watched this movie. Having seen Olympus Has Fallen, I was expecting, essentially, a clone. But, White House Down is better. The characters are better. The acting is better. The sets are far, far better. The violence is the correct level of cartoonish. (This is important. Olympus Has Fallen had some gruesome killing in it. It was a bit much.) White House Down is still a shitty movie, but it’s good enough that it almost breaks out of the cellar. White House Down is a better movie than Alien: Resurrection.