And the crowd goes wild!
In this corner, costing at least $150 million dollars, staring Chinook Tantrum and Jaime “not quite XXX” Foxx, it’s…..
Look at that bruiser! Director Roland Emmerich is rubbing the film down with oil and taping up its gloves and man, does it look like it could knock you into next Sunday with just one of its numerous CGI effects or a chrome-plated Presidential rocket launcher or something.
Who would dare risk a Mind Control Film Battle with White House Down?
Look! Could it be? Are my eyes on correctly? Is this even my head?
In the opposite corner, costing absolutely nothing and found under the deck by your idiot nephew, wearing a fine patina of tuberculosis, rotting unpleasantly, and smelling of varmint feces, yes, it’s….
Who will win? Who will care? Who will chip in for these nachos?
LETS. FIND. OUT!!!!!
Round 1: Plot
The tension is killing me — or maybe it’s still the headache I’ve got from sitting in the cinema last night — but I cannot wait to explain the plot of White House Down to you. Here’s how it goes:
It starts with about 90 minutes of exposition in which Chiggum Narwhal wanders around Washington D.C. fighting squirrels and holding up objects so that you might remember they exist 95 minutes later when they save the entire world in freak coincidences. He also interacts with all the other characters — of which there are many — so they can have their comically wispy personalities exposed through devastatingly exciting conversations about the Middle East, the military industrial complex (you’ve heard of that, right?), and I dunno, the rigors of being a terrible dad with a precocious, President-obsessed, 11-year-old daughter who lives to wave flags.
Then, finally, bad guys blow up the Capitol as a diversion to taking over the White House so they can try to capture the President and extort $7896 batrillion dollars as a feint before really stealing the codes to the country’s nuclear arsenal so they can launch a mess of missiles at Iran to scuttle a peace deal forever so that the Head of the Presidential Detail (James Woods) can avenge the death of his Special Ops son by finishing the job his son started when he died on a mission except really the plan is to destroy the Fertile Crescent so that the Secretary of State can end up President of a country that will doubtlessly be annihilated by nuclear fire within the hour and, probably, also a tidal wave the size of Saturn, if I know Roland Emmerich at all.
Which obviously I don’t, since I went to see White House Down.
Oh. Sorry. Spoiler alert! Just read that last sentence five minutes ago and you’ll be fine.
What? Oh yeah. Chattum Taytoes happens to be in the White House, applying to be a Secret Service agent despite his almost complete lack of qualifications, with his daughter, who is allowed to wander off around the White House alone. This must be because it is the Secret Service’s day off — I’m just assuming since the entire Presidential Detail is killed as easily as goldfish in an industrial thresher.
People punch each other and shoot guns a lot and blow tons of stuff up and then, hooray! The world is saved.
Yep. That’s pretty much the plot.
How does the block of wood with a nail in it hold up, plot-wise?
It’s 3″ x 1.5″ x 2″ and it’s got a nail. How did that nail get there? It’s a mystery! Is it dangerous? Hell yes. Do not eat. Does it have stories to tell? Pull up a damn chair, pour yourself a tall glass of Danish oil, and it’ll tell you about Hammer Time.
Verdict: BLOCK OF WOOD WINS!
Round 2: Character
Does White House Down even have any characters? Hm.
Channick Trayvon’s John Cole gets the most screen time; what do we learn about him? During his three-minute job interview, Maggie Gyllehnhaal’s Carol Finnerty wisely spends his and our time reading his resume aloud. He dropped out of school but finished up in night classes. He served in Afghanistan where he won a medal. He got divorced. He is not Secret Service material because things and stuff. Also, in the exposition act, we learn that he really wants to connect with his daughter but seems to have trouble with calendars and squirrels. What else? Uh. He’s willing to risk his life to save the President and his daughter.
So. What does John Cale want? What is his personality like? Why do we care about his life-and-death struggle?
Look. Let’s be frank here, people. There are occasionally answers to these sorts of questions. Sometimes, but not often, the answers even remain consistent from one scene to the next. Nobody gives a good goddamn, though. Despite being a pureed, regurgitated version of Die Hard turned up to eleventy-two, this movie failed to learn the key lesson that earlier film taught us, that being: the thing that makes action exciting is character.
If you don’t care about the characters, who cares if they live or die — and this goes triple for bad guys.
Hans Gruber. I say the name Hans Gruber and your brain just flips out with associations. You, assuming you saw Die Hard, know who he is, how he felt, what he wanted, and you’re almost sorry he didn’t get it. His plan was bold and brilliant and made perfect sense. He displayed the qualities one would need to display in order to even begin to attempt something so diabolical. Nothing about him was telegraphed in shorthand so we could rush on to the next giant scene of things exploding in a way that almost but not quite looks real.
I’m not even sure who the bad guy really was in White House Down. I am sure that I felt sorry for excellent character actor Richard Jenkins, who did the best one could with a character as lame as the Speaker of the House. Jason Clarke was also in this movie but I have no idea why. I think his character wanted money but also knew about the nuclear annihilation stuff? I could be wrong but I think that currency isn’t going to be so valuable when your hands are consumed with radioactive fire. Maybe we should run some tests?
How about the block of wood with a nail in it? Does it have any character?
Well, it’s got some rust. That stain could be blood, or it could be pesticide. If you brought it to a party, people would have things to say about it, like, “Get that away from me,” and “The garbage bins are out back.”
Verdict: BLOCK OF WOOD WINS!
Round 3: Action
This round, let’s start out with the block of wood.
It might give you a splinter. Also, just sitting there? It looks kind of dangerous. Probably better not touch it.
White House Down threatens the entire world with nuclear holocaust. It depicts the evisceration of our national symbols, the emasculation of our national security apparati, and the wonton destruction of all kinds of expensive stuff. Bad guys get dispatched in reverse order of seniority. Action sequences involve lots of noise and digital explosions until somehow, in a series of impossible to follow cuts, hero John Cole ends up on top, or escaping, or in another elevator shaft.
I swear that there was not a single surprise in the whole film. More than half of the scenes were balsa-wood replicas of scenes from other films, just with dumber characters and the volume turned up seven notches. If the only film you’d ever seen was Westworld, then I guess White House Down would be pretty damn exciting. Although, really, an animatronic Yul Brenner is pretty exciting, at least conceptually.
During the denouement of White House Down, there’s a scene on the White House lawn with the press, all kinds of destruction smoldering about, and random people milling around. It is the happiest moment in anyone’s life because a little girl waved a flag to call off an air strike that would have prevented nuclear destruction only the nuclear destruction got cancelled. Whew! Close call there! Anyway, into this chaotic celebration arrives a helicopter with the new President who is confronted by John Cole and the — surprise! — not dead Foxxy president.
Not one single person turns their head to look at them. None of the news cameras, none of the marines, none of the firemen, t-shirt vendors, half-dead terrorists, nobody. Everyone just sort of mills about as if they’re at the mall waiting for The Shoe Locker to open up.
Then Richard Jenkins says, “And I would have gotten away with destroying the entire world so I could die President ten minutes later if it wasn’t for you meddlesome kids!” and I left the theater with a headache.
That’s it. I give up. White House Down was very loud, extremely explodey, and not nearly as interesting as a block of wood with a nail in it — something I believe I have now proven scientifically.
If you want me, I’ll be under the deck watching the summer’s next blockbuster.