Thursday, July 18, 2013

It Came From The Cineplex: White House Down

White House Down is the latest from director Roland Emmerich, who also directed Independence DayGodzilla, The Day After Tomorrow10,000 BC and 2012. It stars Channing Tatum as Agent John Cale and Jaime Foxx (no relation to Redd) as President Sawyer.

Does the story of a lone government agent who must save the President when the White House is taken over by terrorists sound familiar? Well, it should. Just four short months ago we saw the exact same plot in Olympus Has Fallen.

The similarities between the two films border on the ridiculous:
• Both feature troubled agents who are trying to advance to the Secret Service, and are the only ones who can save the day.
• Both include terrorists who take over the White House and threaten the world with nuclear destruction. 
• Both films feature kids trapped inside the White House who use their extensive knowledge of the building's infrastructure to escape.  
• Both films have scenes of the military attacking the White House and being destroyed or turned back by anti-aircraft defenses on the roof.
• Both feature the seat of power being transferred to the Speaker of the House.
• Both showcase the hero creeping through the catacombs of the White House while taunting the villain over a radio.
• Both films feature endless scenes of computer hacking and people staring at monitors.
• Both depict the media extensively covering the fall of the White House.
You could play both movies side by side and they'd synch up almost perfectly.

It's just like Yoda said: "Always two there are. No more, no less."

This "Twin Movie" phenomenon is nothing new. In fact in the past few years there've been a shocking number of nearly identical movies that have come out at virtually the same time. One film of the pair is almost always a little smarter while the other is louder and dumber. For example:

Antz and A Bug's Life
• Armageddon and Deep Impact
• The Matrix and The Thirteenth Floor
• Supernova and Pitch Black 
• Mission To Mars and Red Planet
• The Haunting and The House On Haunted Hill
• The Prestige and The Illusionist
• Volcano and Dante's Peak
• Turner & Hooch and K-9
• Finding Nemo and Shark Tale
• Top Gun and Iron Eagle
• The Abyss and Leviathan
• Tombstone and Wyatt Earp
• The Truman Show and EdTV
• Descent and The Cave
• Platoon and Full Metal Jacket
• Flightplan and Red Eye
• United 93 and World Trade Center
• Capote and Infamous
• The Road and The Book Of Eli
• Skyline and Battle Los Angeles
• After Earth and Oblivion

How does this keep happening? Is it just coincidence? Spying? Outright thievery? All of the above? However it occurs, it happens way more than you'd think.

Note that the poster above left out Godzilla and 10,000 BC, arguably two of Emmerich's worst efforts. Also note the figures of Tatum and Foxx. I'll give you my house if it turned out that the two of them were even in the same studio when those photos were shot. It's a pasteup job if ever I saw one. How can I be sure? Maybe it's something to do with the fact that Jaime Foxx's head is the exact same size as Channing Tatum's, even though he's standing well behind him. If it wasn't pasted up, then Foxx must have a head that's a foot and a half tall.

Once again Emmerich sets his sights on the White House, destroying it for at least the third time in one of his films. Seriously, what's that guy got against it? Does he hate paying taxes or something?


If you're a fan of Emmerich's usual end of the world opuses (opi?), you may be a bit disappointed with this film. Here the action's confined to pretty much just the White House, so he can't blow it up too early or the film will be over. So he has to settle for blowing up the Capitol rotunda and a few non-essential parts of the White House.


Lastly, I don't know if this means anything or not, but I was the youngest person at my showing of the film. Everyone else in the theater looked to be at least sixty years old. Odd.

The Plot:

For the second time this year, it's Die Hard in the White House. And once again this would have made a far better Die Hard movie than the recent sequel.

Pros:

• Some decent chemistry between the two leads.

• Channing Tatum is slowly winning me over as an actor. In the past I've ragged on him pretty harshly, saying he has about as much acting ability and screen presence as a sack of potatoes. Fortunately he seems to be improving lately. 


I'm also impressed that he's willing to make fun of himself, as seen in Jimmy Kimmel's Movie The Movie 2V and the recent This Is The End.


• I don't know why, but I enjoyed the extensive car chase on the White House lawn. Must have had something to do with seeing Tatum doing donuts in the Presidential limousine.


• Despite the fact that this is a big dumb action movie, it rewards you a bit for paying attention. Several times President Sawyer is seen fingering his pocket watch that was owned by Abraham Lincoln. Later on he gets shot in the gut by one of the mercenaries. Luckily for him the watch stops the bullet.


Early on we're told that Cale's daughter Emily won some sort of flag-waving competition (?). At the end of the film she grabs a tattered American flag and waves it on the White House lawn in order to prevent an air strike. Lucky for her she had that unique flag waving talent, eh? No ordinary citizen would ever be able to wave a flag.


The main villain still uses an old school pager. His accomplice uses one as well, which tips off the hero as to his identity.


• The hacker who infiltrates the White House computers is none other than Liam McPoyle from It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia! Sadly he doesn't drink any milk.


Cons:

• Much of the plot revolves around President Sawyer's support of a controversial Middle East peace treaty and his decision to pull all American forces from the region.

I'm no politician, but even I know that would never happen. The entire region would be plunged into chaos (more so than it already is) within minutes of a troop withdrawal.

Surely they could have come up with a more plausible explanation for what's got the villains' panties in a bunch?

• The mercenaries who help take over the White House are all very over the top and dress like they stepped out of some 1980s Stallone or Schwarzenegger movie. A couple of them wouldn't have been out of place in a Mad Max film.

• At one point Sawyer changes into his Air Jordans to help him escape the White House. Seeing the President running around in old school kicks and a business suit was a bit too cutesy for my tastes.


• Sawyer carries around his aforementioned Abe Lincoln pocket watch, complete with an engraving from Mary Todd. He claims the first lady bought it for him for an anniversary present. Could that really happen? I know you can buy letters that Lincoln wrote, but a pocket watch… seems as if something like that would be priceless. It also seems like it ought to be in a museum.


• At one point Cale starts several fires inside the White House to activate the sprinkler system and distract the villains. That's the last we ever hear about the fires. Did the sprinklers put them out? They looked pretty extensive. I guess they must have, since the entire White House wasn't engulfed in flames. I think a better explanation would be that the screenwriter just forgot about it.


Definitely not original, but it's reasonably entertaining if you turn off your brain at the door. I give it a B.

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