Friday, July 5, 2013
White House Down
A few months ago, a certain movie called "Olympus Has Fallen" came out. But I never saw that, so I have nothing more to say on the subject. I'd actually like to discuss a movie called "A Good Day to Die Hard", which wasn't good, did not take place during the course of a day, and was barely even a Die Hard movie. "White House Down" is a way better Die Hard movie, even when it flipped out John McClane for Channing Tatum - trust me, those are words I never thought I'd say. This is a dumb action movie, there's a scene where the Presidential Limo gets chased around the lawn of the White House by two terrorist trucks, but its also a fun dumb movie. And I think lately with so many awful blockbusters coming out**, I think we need to create a distinction between "fun dumb" and "stupid dumb".
A fun dumb movie is like "Furious 6", as wild and insane as possible with no real interest in art, story, or further meaning, but with a smile. A stupid dumb movie is like "World War Z", where there's no interest in art, story, or further meaning, but the movie is also bitter, slow, and joyless. Or another example would be that remake of "Total Recall"*** - which was a rip-off of just about everything, had no spirit, and was just really sad to watch. If you're gonna make a dumb action movie, why not have fun with it?? Its even the same with the last Superman movie, taking a classic - and often ridiculous - Golden Age superhero into a bitter tragedy. Why can't we make jokes, have characters, and stop trying to be cool. Let's set the White House on fire, get some marshmallows, and watch a buddy cop movie where the Black guy is President Obama. How can you not have fun with that?
What's funny is that "White House Down", a movie about an attempted paramilitary take-over of the United States featuring a bombing on Capitol Hill and the destruction of Air Force One, is actually the smallest and lowest-key movie that Roland Emmerich has made since "Stargate". Ever since he made his mark on the modern Blockbuster by having an alien laser blow up the White House for the world's pleasure in "Independence Day", Emmerich has focused more or less exclusively on massive world destruction disaster movies. I supposed once you make "2012", a film where the Earth more or less melts, you have to move backwards and try to make smaller movies. And really, what does it say about the modern bloated superfilm system that a Die Hard rip-off is something almost personal and artful, representing a lost age of cinema? "Die Hard" used to be a major movie, representing a huge studio investment. Now it seems classical and refined compared to sight of entire nations getting destroyed in CG festivities.
Roland Emmerich is a rather strange filmmaker. At one point critics thought that his pandering to liberals in his blockbusters was insincere nonsense. Its hard to know if a director is taking his craft seriously when he turns "An Inconvenient Truth" into armadas of tornados carving up Los Angeles. But it appears that he actually believes the left-wing stuff he's screaming about, if perhaps in a very unsophisticated way. Because "White House Down" essentially creates an idealistic SUPER OBAMA as its hero, a Lincoln-loving political saint that's going to bring peace to the Middle East and end the War on Terror in a single stroke. And the enemies invading the White House aren't Islamists, they're crazy Right-Wing radical Republicans working for the Military Industrial Complex who want to keep making money off the global wars. "White House Down" either is a masterpiece of not-very-subtle Conservative satire, or the world's dumbest movie. But I can't disagree on it being fun.
This is essentially pure formula, so its hard to fine much to say about "White House Down". From the villains with their twisty plots, to the wacky hacker in the basement, to the plucky hero saving the day all alone to save his family, this is precisely a Die Hard movie. With a little bit of "Air Force One" thrown in****. Roland Emmerich adds his own little comedy beats, such as Jamie Foxx's President Not-Obama enjoying Air Jordans and having a drawer full of Nicorette gum. But beyond that, simply put in James Woods for Hans Gruber and you have a far superior "Die Hard 5" than "Live Free and Die Hard".
Channing Tatum obviously is a weak leading man, but he's serviceable in this. There really aren't many stand-out performances at all, besides James Woods who is awesome in everything. Especially annoying though, is Channing Tatum's duck-faced daughter, who is filling in for the role of John McClane's wife/daughter/son. This girl is... awful, just the worst and most annoying child performance you can imagine. But she's a small part of the movie, its not like we have to carry her around every second, she dutifully stays a hostage right up until the end. Everything else is pure service.
So is "White House Down" a great movie? Not really. Its not even memorable. I can't say much of it made a great impression on me, besides a few sparks of pure political madness. But it is a nice little action movie, a breath of fresh air from all these bloated and baroque CG movies I've been suffering through. And between this and goddamn "Lone Ranger", you can do much worse. Trust me.
* Thank God I graduated two months ago and thus have to pay off my thirty thousand in federal student aid loans on the 3.4% tax rate. I got mine! HAHA! (Of course, I have a worse-than-useless humanities degree, so that laughter is mixed with tears...)
** The mere release of "The Lone Ranger" was enough to give me a major stomache flu of some kind, I don't even want to imagine what would happen to me if I actually saw it.
*** Which most of the world seems to have difficulty recalling (ha).
**** Though if President Harrison Ford were still in office during "White House Down", he wouldn't need no friggin' Channing Tatum to save him from the villains. President Ford could've won WWII by himself.