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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Jul 9, 2013

White House Down Review: Spectacular Action Set Pieces

‘White House Down” is the second Hollywood movie this year to show an attack on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, so it feels like déjà vu, but it’s bigger and definitely better made. The president here is not just a “damsel” in distress but someone who fights side by side with the hero who comes to save him. Just like Gerald Butler in “Olympus Has Fallen”, Channing Tatum gets to be the president’s rescuer only by chance.

He plays John Cale, a divorced dad who’s an Afghanistan war veteran currently working with the security detail of the Speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins). He dreams of transferring to be a Secret Service security agent for the U.S. President. On the day he applies at the White House, he takes his pre-teen daughter Emily (Joey King, who looks like a young Rachel Weisz) with him as a bribe for not being able to attend one of her school activities.

His interviewer, Agent Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal), unfortunately underestimates him and rejects him for not being a good team player, but he lies to Emily and takes her on a tour of the White House. While Emily is in the toilet, the White House is attacked by armed militants and all hell breaks loose. Father and daughter get separated from each other and it becomes Cale’s task not only to protect U.S. Pres. James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) but also to rescue his daughter from the bad guys who took her hostage. He just happened to be in the right (or wrong?) place at the right time, just like another John who becomes an accidental hero in “Die Hard”, Bruce Willis’ John McClane. They both even end up wearing nothing but dirtied undershirts.

This movie is helmed by Roland Emmerich, who has previously destroyed the White House in “Independence Day”. He also made such disaster flicks as “The Day After Tomorrow” and “2012”. He pays tribute to himself here in the scene where the Capitol is destroyed and someone says: “Just like in ‘Independence Day’.”

The script by James Vanderbilt is really told with much humor, with so many characters delivering wisecracks, and also with a lot of heart as you do care more for the principal characters who are better written and developed than in “Olympus”. No less than the Presidential limousine is destroyed here in a unique car chase around the White House grounds, with the President firing a rocket launcher, making someone quip: “That’s something you don’t see every day.”

When Pres. Sawyer sees Cale doing some stunts inside an elevator shaft, he says: “I’m not doing that shit.” If he somewhat makes you recall the current occupant of the White House, we’re sure that’s intentional. The president is not just so easily eclipsed here by Cale and they even come off as buddy action heroes fighting the villains.

“White House Down” is definitely more superior to “Olympus Has Fallen” in the technical aspects. The latter has haphazard special effects and the night scenes are so badly lighted you sometimes can’t figure out exactly what’s happening on screen. Emmerich obviously has a better crew of technical people, from the cinematographer to the special effects guys, in mounting the spectacular action set pieces that are beautifully staged and executed with some clever touches.

One element in the movie that worked really well is the presence of Emily as a girl hero and technology whiz who’s so brave and has presence of mind in taking videos of the bad guys then sending the footage to media so they can be identified. You really root for her and for her dad to be able to save her. The movie really has a superb cast, with James Woods a standout as the head of the Secret Service who’s about to retire but has a deadly hidden agenda. Giving great support are Kevin Rankin as the psychotic white supremacist bad guy, Nicolas Wright as the tour guide who implores the villains not to destroy the priceless artifacts inside the White House, Lance Reddick as the very intense Gen. Caulfield, and even Rachelle Lefevre as Cale’s ex-wife. All in all, it’s really a popcorn movie of the U.S. summer without any artistic pretensions that is really fun.

In the last two films of Channing Tatum we saw, “G.I. Joe” and “Side Effects”, he is quickly killed after the movie starts. Here, he is projected as an action hero and he certainly fills the bill. Some folks make fun of him, just because he admits he used to be male stripper or exotic dancer, but we believe the guy is quite talented. He can do musicals (“Step Up 1 and 2”, and we enjoyed his dancing with Charlize Theron in the recent Oscar Night to the tune of “The Way You Look Tonight” while host Seth MacFarlane sings) but he’s also effective in drama and romance (“Dear John”, “The Vow”) and also comedy (“21 Jump St.”, which is a big hit so it now has a forthcoming sequel, "22 Jump St.")