‘White House Down’: Classic action flick

Carljoe Javier
Action, adventure, comedy and just the right touch of drama

EXPLOSIVE. Director Roland Emmerich isn't afraid of blowing things up. Photos from the 'White House Down' Facebook page

MANILA, Philippines – Any film that comes with director Roland Emmerich’s name attached is a promise of bombast and destruction. Many have already observed that Emmerich isn’t shy about blowing up monuments and iconic locations. And with a title like “White House Down” we should know the kind of mayhem that will ensue.

Interestingly though, Emmerich shows restraint in that he doesn’t blow up the whole White House, just big sections of it. He picks and chooses here, knowing when to go for the bombastic, but also handling scenes of much smaller scale with just as much energy and a sense of fun. 

Full disclosure: I love ’80s action movies. I love action movie cliches. I love buddy cop flicks. And I am particularly loving the retro revival of these movies, with both the return of action movie stars of the period and new movies that are applying those aesthetics.

Watch this behind the scenes feature on Roland Emmerich:

Iron Man 3,” which is really a superhero flick that follows the buddy cop tradition, is one of such movies. “White House Down” is another, as it unashamedly follows the “Die Hard” formula.

Of course this flick has its tweaks. Instead of the Nakatomi Building, you have the White House. Instead of a multi-racial set of stereotypical baddies, you’ve got a variety of bad white dude stereotypes (rogue military, crazy computer nerd, white supremacist, disillusioned G-man). Unorthodox cop rocks a wifebeater, but instead of trying to win back his wife’s love, he is trying to win back his daughter’s respect. Oh and he gets a black sidekick, who in this flick just happens to be the president.

All in all though, you get a close-quarters adrenaline-fueled thrill ride, with creeping through vents, hide and seek along corridors, elevator shaft climbing and brutal, satisfying action sequences.

READ: Channing Tatum tweets ‘Mabuhay Philippines!’

The set-up is pretty simple. Ex-military and current bodyguard to the Speaker of the House Cale, played by Channing Tatum, has an interview to be on the Secret Service. Wanting to hit two birds with one stone, he takes his daughter, a tech-savvy pre-teen obsessed with politics, on a White House tour. He hopes to look like a hero to her by brining her on the tour and getting on the president’s detail.

Then some bad dudes decide to blow up the White House because of the president’s decision to pull troops out of the Middle East and attempt a peace treaty with all Arab nations. Because, you know, no one wants that, right?

Watch the trailer here:

We get ham-fisted ideology (Don’t get me wrong, I actually agree with a lot of the politics being spewed by the characters, this movement towards peace, etc. etc. It’s just that as is par for the course where explosions are the goal, the discourse is far from nuanced.), delivered in the form of expository dialogue that sets up most of the film.

The first act, where things are being set up, is very workmanlike; just putting the essentials in without any real inventiveness. Once things start blowing up, though, everything stays exciting. One of the things I took note of was the lack of shaky cam action. For that I am most thankful.

Here, what we get are well-framed action sequences where we get a sense of where all people are at a time. The choreography can be laughable at times, with Channing Tatum jumping all over the place, sliding here and there, in apparent reference to the agility of a John Woo hero. He is also screaming, “Go, go, go,” or “Move, move, move,” all the time. But hey, it’s fun and it’s fun to watch.

The action sequences escalate well, and we get comedic quips through it. Not all the jokes work, but lots of them do. Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum are two very funny guys, and I feel that considering their past work, this could have been a lot funnier. My benchmark would be the repartee between Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson in “Die Hard with a Vengeance.” Here, it’s okay though. 

LAUGHABLE. Two funny guys who could have been funnier

Working to add humor (though I think unintentionally) is the escalation of threat. It’s laughable, way too far from reality, to take the events of the film seriously.

When NORAD missiles get launched and the nuclear football comes into play, you know it’s time to step back and take it all with a laugh. Oh and a car chase on the lawn of the White House involving gatling guns and rocket launchers has to be one of the funniest, craziest things I’ve seen in film recently. Had me laughing and hooting.

As a work of Hollywood escapism in the form of the summer blockbuster, it gets pretty much everything right. You’ve got action, adventure, comedy and just the right touch of drama.

There were moments when I knew that my emotions were clearly being manipulated, but hey, I went with it because it was cute or it just worked. It clearly leaves the realm of reality to show us a work of fantasy, but does so with a firm sense of viewers’ need for realism balanced against the need to see something that is out of this world.

“White House Down” transports us to a totally different place and has fun while doing it. It gets hammy or cheesy, but that’s par for the course and the movie actually plays it for even more fun. – Rappler.com

Carljoe Javier

Carljoe Javier is at the faculty of English and Comparative Literature at UP. He is also an author, and among his books are The Kobayashi Maru of Love, the new edition of which is available from Visprint Inc. His upcoming Writing 30 will be available as an ebook at amazon, ibookstore, b&n and flipreads.com

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