Saturday, July 13, 2013

White House Down - Theatrical Review

Release Date: June 28, 2013

'White House Down' brings the action but forgets the fun.

Review Vital Stats:  
Theater: AMC 16 Tyler Galleria
Time: 10:40 am June 29, 2013   
Projector Type: Digital 2D  
Film Rating: PG-13   
Film Runtime: 1 hr 40 min
Studio: Sony Pictures

Loves: No holds barred action flicks
Likes: Roland Emmerich films, Jamie Foxx, Channing Tatum
Neutral: Watching the same movie with different actors 3 months later
Hates: That they both couldn't be equals   
Hollywood loves doing things in twos: Last year there was "Mirror, Mirror" & "Snow White & the Huntsman". This year it was "Olympus Has Fallen" & "White House Down".

Director Roland Emmerich is no stranger when it comes to destroying national monuments in his films, but none has been more prominent as the White House. In Independence Day aliens blow it up, in 2012 a tidal wave brings an aircraft carrier down on top of it and now, in his latest effort White House Down (WHD from this point forward), the prolific filmmaker has finally made the White House the central figure in its own film. Unlike his previous efforts though, the Presidential residence dies a very slow and agonizing death as it is shot, blown up, burned and otherwise gutted from the inside out, unfortunately that isn't far removed from our experience with the film itself as it plods along the exact same ground that was covered much better 3 months back.

So far this year we have had two films depicting a terrorist attack on the White House, both equally absurd and both aiming for the same audience. One features a disgraced secret service agent who is given another chance to prove himself by taking out the terrorists who have taken over the White House and save the President of the United States by retaking it. The other features a Capitol Hill Police officer who wants to become a secret service agent and is given a chance to prove himself by taking out the terrorists who have taken over the White House and save the President of the United States by retaking it. Can you tell which one is which?

Well, the first one mentioned is the action flick from earlier this year, Olympus Has Fallen (OHF from this point forward), starring Gerald Butler as the disgraced secret service agent. The second one is WHD, starring Channing Tatum as the aspiring secret service agent and Jamie Foxx as the President. While those extremely brief descriptions aren't much to go off of, suffice it to say that both films share a lot in common in the realm of characters, locations, and even their action scenes (some are exactly the same).

With so many similarities between the two, and both being released within 3 months of each other, it begs the inevitable question of which one is the better choice for those looking to see the White House get taken down? Well, there is no real easy answer unfortunately as both share a number of the same problems. Your decision will likely be based off the most rudimentary of differences between the two, such as the actors, your personal feelings towards them and their "talents" and basic tonal differences, but those differences only take you so far until you have to decide which one you had more fun with.

Ok, so that isn't exactly a fair way to review any film, comparing it directly to another, but considering how close both films were released to one another and how they unapologetically cover the exact same ground, it is near impossible to not compare the two, especially when they have this much in common. That's not to mention the fact that Hollywood wants you to plunk down your hard earned cash for what is essentially the same film, just with different bells and whistles.

It would be all too easy to redirect you to my review for OHF and tell you to just replace all mention of Gerald Butler with Channing Tatum and change the terrorists from Chinese radicals to inbred southerners with a grudge, but those are just surface details (and that would be an extreme cop out to boot). Despite their many commonalities (which will be laid out in a little bit), they both still have enough differences to separate the two, but are those differences good or bad?

This is the first real test of Channing Tatum's stardom. For years now his acting skills have been called into question, constantly the butt of nearly every joke about the pretty boy who can't act to save his life. But then last year something unprecedented happened. After two back to back hits with 21 Jump Street and Magic Mike, the male-stripper-turned-actor seemed to be catching on with general audiences and critics alike (up until then he had a strictly female fanbase).

He showed some real growth and a penchant for comedic acting, but more importantly he showed that his name attached to a project was bankable. Just look at this years G.I. Joe: Retaliation for an example of his newfound fame. Before either of those other two films took off, he had maybe two or three scenes in Retaliation. But the studio saw dollar signs and a handful of unconfirmed reshoots took place to put more Tatum in the Joe movie. Clearly Hollywood was taking notice, as were audiences who helped make Joe a bonafide hit.

But this was his true test, starring in his very first summer blockbuster. His co-star Jamie Foxx has already proven himself an actor able to bring in the bacon with both an Oscar (Ray) and a smash hit under his belt (Django Unchained). This was Tatum's time to shine and show everyone that he is an actor to be taken seriously by critics and Hollywood alike. But you know what they say, the closer you are to your dream, the easier it is to stumble, and stumble he did.

All that charisma and charm from 21 Jump Street are completely absent here. Playing a divorced father whose dream it is to serve on the secret service, Tatum takes a few steps back by delivering what can only be explained as a performance lacking in nearly every conceivable way. He isn't bad in the role, he is able to handle the action bits fairly well and fits into that white tank top nicely, which Bruce Willis made famous decades earlier. He just lacks any sort of real personality, which cripples the film out the gate.

This is made even more apparent by a commanding performance from Jamie Foxx as the President. His actual age not withstanding, Foxx takes control of the film from the first moment he is on screen and never lets go. He displays the wisdom and dignity expected of our Commander and Chief and gives him just enough humor to make him an appealing out-of-his-element action hero which contrasts perfectly with Tatum's gung-ho attitude. Foxx literally steals Tatum's thunder nearly every single time.

When both Tatum and Foxx are together, which barely makes up half the film's lengthy runtime, it functions as a fun, albeit straightforward, buddy cop throwback. Fans of the Lethal Weapon series will have some serious deja vu for sure. Take them apart though, which happens more often than it should, and Foxx's strengths shine through while Tatum's weaknesses stick out like a sore thumb. Chances are that we won't be seeing Tatum in another lead role for an action film any time soon, let alone a summer tent-pole feature.

Tatum's lackluster turn as the film's action hero isn't enough to deflate Emmerich's White House opus alone though. Even if Tatum had brought the goods, the film still has to contend with the fact that it isn't the only White House invasion flick on the block. WHD, for all its big budget shenanigans and big name cast members, it just isn't as much fun as OHF in the end, a film released earlier in the year with a less bankable star and half the budget. There are a number of reasons for this.

While both films feature an equally preposterous premise (terrorists taking over the White House), somehow you are able to accept the idea better in OHF than in WHD. Whether it be that OHF just had a much more laid back and go for broke approach to its violence (OHF is rated R, while WHD is a much safer PG-13), or that the bad guys in OHF are more interesting than the ones in WHD, the plain fact of the matter is that OHF takes its ridiculous premise and has fun with it.

WHD just takes itself way too seriously for its own good. Gerald Butler may lack range, but he makes for a fun hero type who can handle explosions and witticisms with equal panache, which helps the audience buy into the film's absurdity. Tatum and Foxx on the other hand seem dead set on trying to make us believe that this is a dire situation that we should be taking extremely seriously (aside from a few back and forth witty comments that is).

Then there is the action itself, this is one category that both films excel in, but each have their own unique issues. The action in OHF in general is well staged, but falls apart due to a minuscule budget. But the action set pieces in WHD feel very pedestrian in contrast and just not as much fun, with the only truly standout action scene which involves an air raid by military helicopters on the roof of the White House, an exact recreation of the same scene from OHF, shot for shot and word for word. One has to wonder if they were working from the same script at times, it's that blatant.

One can go on and on with comparisons between the two films but the one and only comparison that sets them apart, and the only the one that matters, is which one is the better film? If you are a fan of either Tatum or Foxx and like your action with a tinge of reality, then WHD is your film, but if you like your action served up with some witty satire and a much more capable lead actor, OHF is the film for you. Either way you slice it, you will find something to take away from either film despite their faults and depending on your own personal preferences. But for this reviewer, when it is all said and done, White House Down is a day late, a dollar short & lacks a sufficient enough lead actor to leave a lasting impression.





Ramadan said...

I don't know who rates these movies, but all the English movies are rated as good or above average. This movie is pathetic and horrendous. The reviewer should actually learn about good cinema before giving these ratings.

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