A Few Random Thoughts on “White House Down”

I just got back from a lengthy business trip so I spent the weekend recovering, i.e. mostly vegging out watching TV.

I finally caught “White House Down,” the second of a pair of White House under assault by terrorists films that came out in 2013. Neither film is good but I have to say that WHD is abominably bad.

Yes, this “Die Hard” derivation is ridiculous but in these types of movies there’s ridiculous (say, ‘The Transporter’) and then there’s just beyond ridiculous (‘Transporter 2’). “White House Down” is beyond ridiculous.

How does a big budget Hollywood vehicle with a decent cast — notably Jamie Foxx, Channing Tatum, Maggie Gyllenhall and James Woods — and a competent action director, Roland Emmerich (‘Universal Soldier,’ ‘Stargate’ and, ironically for its famous blasting of the White House, ‘Independence Day’), get to be so bad?

The mind wanders…

Script. I’ve got half-a-dozen unfinished/almost finished scripts propping up doors that are better than this one. The one in the bottom of the bird cage is better; even with the bird poop on it.

The “Military Industrial Complex” is behind it all? Yes, they actually say “Military Industrial Complex.” It’s behind Middle East trouble? Behind terrorism? Seriously? Were neo-Nazis unavailable or was that the first draft?

Who thought that up?

James Vanderbilt is the listed screenwriter. Life is easy when you’re a Vanderbilt. (Yes, those Vanderbilts.) He did do the scripts for the entertaining “The Rundown” and “The Losers” many years ago.

The driving this movie is an Obamaesque president deciding to pull all U.S. troops out of the Middle East. He believes that will placate the Muslims and they’ll go back to tending camels and pumping oil… The, uh, “Military Industrial Complex” doesn’t like that idea because they’ll all be out of business, according to the script. Clearly, young James inherited none of The Commodore’s (or his aunt Gloria’s) business sense. So the MIC engineers a coup that will ignite a major war (wherein everyone in the ‘Military Industrial Complex’ will get bonuses). You could get more clearsighted geopolitics from reading Mother Jones.

As seems to be required in movies like this, perhaps by some guild rule, the lead is a divorced/estranged father trying to work his way into his child’s life, but things just keep conspiring against him. Of course, the super-sassy child is constantly in peril. It gets progressively ridiculous after that. In the end the world is almost thrust into a nuclear war because nobody thinks it a good idea to drop a bomb on the kid…

The writer’s attempt to add character details to the characters looks to have been taken from a “Scriptwriting for Dummies” book.

Is there a prize for correctly guessing the number of references to Abe Lincoln in the movie? I say 15.

Clearly the writer does not know the difference between Persians and Arabs nor the historical rivalries of the Middle East. Hint, James, for centuries (millennia) there have been politicians trying to answer “The Middle East Question.”

Clearly the filmmakers made little use of military technical advisors. A standard mid-sized shoulder-launched RPG destroys an Abrams tank with a detonation on its front armor. Seriously? In real combat the RPG might have left a smoke shadow where it bounced off.

Even more amusing, an ICBM launched from a base in southern Ohio shoots down Air Force One.

Naturally, all the military leaders are gung-ho and ready to storm in. Special operations troops are mere dimwitted fodder (ditto the almost identical script of ‘Olympus Has Fallen’).

Of course all the White House guards are terrible shots and act like guard extras from “Hot Shots! Part Deux.”

The CGI helicopters seem only capable of traveling in trios, moving as a single unit and their scale is wildly off in many shots.

Maggie Gyllenhall is miscast and her insistence that she remain in control is laughable as her Secret Service fails time and time again. But in these type of movies, emotionalism always triumphs. And you never call a woman incompetent.

Jamie Foxx takes a lot of flack at IMDB for his performance as President Sawyer. He is clearly miscast, and at first, I thought he was awful but then it dawned on me that he was imitating Obama. He’s a big Obama supporter and also a very good mimic. He was imitating  The One’s famous “coolness,” his hipness and Obama’s distant, clipped conversational style. There is even a scene where the president grabs some Nicorette gum and puts on his Air Jordan basketball shoes. Watching Foxx, you realize how comical Obama really is. I won’t go into the nauseating relationship with the First Lady. (BTW, where has Michelle Obama been lately? She hasn’t been seen for months. Still on her taxpayer-funded, never-ending world tour?)

Channing Tatum is functional as the Capitol Policeman who saves the day and gets his dream job as a presidential bodyguard.

Frankly, this whole movie would have worked better as a B movie with, say Erika Eleniak, in Gyllenhall’s role, Ice Cube as the President and, well, Tatum as the cop. Maybe Steve Austin as the cop. James Woods could keep his role as the turncoat Secret Service leader (don’t even try to understand that motivational mess in the script).


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