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White House Down
Image: Reiner Bajo / Columbia Pictures
White House Down
Our Rating
1 Star - Weak
Average Rating
 
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Mpaa Rating
PG-13 (For prolonged sequences of action and violence including intense gunfire and explosions, some language and a brief sexual image.)
Genre
Directed By
Roland Emmerich
Run Time
2 hours 11 minutes
Cast
Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke
Theatre Release
June 28, 2013 by Sony Pictures Releasing

If Roland Emmerich and Paul Feig have any luck, reviews of White House Down and The Heat will fly down rabbit holes to discuss extraneous matters, such as whether or not the former film makes liberals or conservatives look worse, and why Melissa McCarthy's image was digitally altered in early posters of the latter to make her look thinner.

And it would make perfect sense if critics go out of their way to discuss matters tangential to the films, since the movies themselves are so drearily, predictably bad.

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg quotes radio consultant Tom Webster when summarizing what media creators and managers think is the safest way to protect their investment: "Stations have to take risks on new songs, otherwise people stop listening. But what listeners really want are songs they already like. So you have to make new songs seem familiar as fast as possible." Does this thinking apply to movies? White House Down had a reported budget of $150,000,000. The Heat clocks in with a more modest (reported) budget of $50,000,000. That's a lot of risk, so conventional wisdom states that Emmerich, especially, needs to make his film seem as familiar as possible as quickly as possible.

Channing Tatum (L) and Jamie Foxx (R) in White House Down. Image: Reiner Bajo / Columbia Pictures

Channing Tatum (L) and Jamie Foxx (R) in White House Down.

Increasingly, for filmmakers that means not only limiting themselves to plots that can be described in a one sentence pitch—it's Die Hard at the White House!—but also reducing and using shorthand in those elements of the movie (usually the beginning and the end) that are the least generic. We see a stinging reminder that John Cale (Tatum) has missed his daughter's talent competition to set him up as a loving but flailing parent. We get a failed job interview to provide a quick summary of his action hero bona fides. In the background we get television reports of politically polarized responses to President Sawyer's (Foxx) controversial peace plan. (Step One: Remove all American troops from the Middle East. Step Two: Compare yourself to Lincoln for your bold and innovative thinking.)

But then the Capitol building blows up, shots are fired in the White House (I dare you to pretend you are surprised by who isn't who he/she appears to be), and we're off to the races. Two hours of explosions, gunfire, hand-to-hand and surface-to-air combat later, Israel and Iran decide the best possible response to our narrowly avoiding blowing up the rest of the world in a nuclear holocaust would be to unilaterally give up their own military ambitions and decide that yes, we can all just get along, thank you very much.

And I wouldn't want to spoil the end of the film by telling you whether or not Cale gets the Secret Service to rethink hiring him and/or wins newfound respect in his daughter's eyes.

Plenty of films are conventional, even repetitive, yet they still manage to be entertaining. Genre elements become conventional usually precisely because they are effective. If a new film follows a formula, it is because that formula worked successfully at one point or another. The problem with White House Down, like so many current action films, is that it doesn't really understand what made the films it is imitating successful or popular in the first place.

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