Director Roland Emmerich’s White House Down was one of the casualties of the 2013 summer movie season. With his Independence Day (1996) glories far behind him, Emmerich and screenwriter James Vanderbilt walked away with egg on their faces as White House Down grossed a mere $73 million domestically (it reportedly cost $150 million). Many were quick to blame the recent minor hit Olympus Has Fallen, which centered on a nearly identical premise (a hostile takeover of the White House by terrorists). Now that White House Down is landing on home video (November 5), I felt a back-to-back comparison was in order.
While Olympus Has Fallen is the more serious of the two, it’s also not nearly as much fun. If Olympus is basically 24 with Gerard Butler in the Jack Bauer role, White House Down is a Die Hard movie, and a pretty good one. What it comes down to is: Do you want sullen or do you want silly? Frankly, Olympus is an adequate nuts-and-bolts thriller, but White House is a fast, funny action movie. Heck, it even out-grossed Olympus worldwide by a fairly significant margin, it was just the higher production budget that kept it from being as profitable. Columbia was obviously banking on a better response to a buddy flick starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx. The home video market is for second chances though, and I’m betting many of the people who stayed away from it in theaters will find it makes for a raucous, bombastic good time at home.
Emmerich keeps things simple. U.S. Capitol police officer John Cale (Tatum) wants to work in President Sawyer’s (Foxx) Secret Service detail. He shows up for his interview with his preteen daughter, Emily (Joey King), who’s all starry-eyed for the Prez. Unfortunately, top Secret Service agent Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal) has no love for her former colleague John. She turns him down flat, but John can’t bear to break the news to Emily. His relationship with his daughter is tenuous at best. The whole Secret Service gig was a last ditch attempt at winning her respect.
Though dejected, John takes Emily on a White House tour just as terrorists attack both the Capitol and White House simultaneously. They seize control, taking President Sawyer captive. It just so happens that Emily scurried off for a quick pee break, so John is left with both professional and personal goals: liberate the President and reunite with his daughter. As John dodges mercenary’s bullets, he inevitably partners with the action-hero president and the explosions, close calls, and general chaos build. Don’t even think about taking any of it seriously. Just enjoy the one-liners, taut action, and Jimmi Simpson (Breakout Kings) as a dastardly computer geek working with the terrorists. And Joey King, whose other summer movie The Conjuring was far better received, steals the show with a fully committed performance as the resourceful Emily.
While the Blu-ray version has a bunch of exclusive special features (including nine featurettes and a gag reel), the standard DVD does contain four short featurettes (each also found on the Blu-ray). “A Dynamic Duo” is a fun look at the action partnership of Tatum and Foxx. “Men of Action” examines the film’s stunts (and Tatum’s participation in them). “Upping the Ante” hypes Emmerich’s career, while “Meet the Insiders” is a short, superficial look at the film’s supporting roles. The DVD also includes an UltraViolet digital copy.
White House Down is a popcorn movie, not anything remotely meant to be taken seriously. You might have to disengage the rational part of your brain for 131 minutes to fully enjoy it, but the same can be said for tons of much better-received action flicks.