Hollywood movie ideas and buses: we wait for ages for a certain one to come along, and then we get a fleet. Barely had Olympus Has Fallen faded from my burning retinas when once again the White House is under attack from…someone…who wants to get the codes for…something…for some reason that’s more personal than political. In White House Down it’s taken one step further by adding in every possible cliché known to script-writing man. In fact, so laden with hackney is the narrative that it becomes difficult at times to tell if the movie is really, really bad, or so bad that it might be good.
Much like that last White House disaster situation, this movie has attracted a calibre of actor that is completely at odds with the premise. While James Woods and Channing Tatum raise few eyebrows (what else are either of them doing?), what Jamie Foxx, Jason Clarke and Maggie Gyllenhaal are doing here is not so clear. Again we are faced with a situation where the life of the American president is in the hands of a man who ‘shouldn’t even be here today’, and where the entire air-force, marine and police contingent of Washington DC seem incapable of stopping a band of twenty men from taking over the most protected building in the country. This is not the only plot hole in a very woolly invasion plan, and the constant swerving from its own internal reality means much of my time was spent shouting instructions at the screen. Case in point, goofy reporters and youtube uploaders (how modern!) seem to have a clearer view of what’s going on inside the building than the intelligence centre of the CIA and Secret Service.
From start to finish this overly-long action slapstick draws on every possible cliché and trope of the genre – down to the white vest and the ‘get the hell off my lawn’ White House defence. The passable chemistry between Foxx’s American president and Tatum’s John McClane – I mean, John Cale (totally different character, I don’t know how I mixed them up!) – can’t disguise the too-frequent lulls in action. The CGI is fairly solid, and the sequences when it’s allowed to shine certainly thrill the senses, but they don’t quite make up for a lack of real direction in the story. Sure, John Cale just wants to save his plucky back-talking daughter while protecting the president of the USA, but at 2 hours 11 minutes it really starts to drag out relationship issues while snipers are gunning down helicopters with land to air missiles. Jason Clarke is absolutely wasted as the main mercenary – the man is lethal, and fills the screen with the sort of violence you want from your hired goon, but this movie doesn’t deserve his smouldering aggression.
All in all, White House Down just can’t quite thrill the way it should – ticking all of the boxes on the to-do list of disaster flicks doesn’t mean you’ve created a real action movie, and this one will deservedly fade from cinema to late-night TV. Failing in the attempted take-itself-seriously-but-not-really category, it’s neither funny nor adrenalin-packed enough to feature on a true action movie ranking. Put simply, on a scale of Segal to McLane, this comes in at a very mediocre Van Damme.