How can the same shit happen to the same house twice? That’s the question that hovers over Roland Emmerich’s newest like Marine One on the White House lawn, given it’s the second actioner this year to have a hostile takeover of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue challenged by a heroic rogue element.
Less outrageously violent than Olympus Has Fallen, White House Down also dials down the hysterical xenophobia by having chez Prez violated by home-grown neo-Con paramilitaries rather than evil foreigners.
The picture’s supposed liberal bias has been held responsible by right-wing blowhards for it tanking Stateside, although plain old audience apathy is a more plausible explanation.
Which is a shame really, as Emmerich’s effort is markedly more personable than Antoine Fuqua’s and has a better cast to boot. It also has a sense of humour to offset its scenes of wanton destruction, not to mention a POTUS in Jamie Foxx’s James Sawyer you could conceivably see yourself voting for.
OK, so would-be secret service agent Channing Tatum doesn’t so much ape John McClane as thieve his identity, being a) prone to vests, b) familiar with elevator shafts and c) related to one of the hostages.
But then WHD seems practically hell bent on being the Die Hard sequel A Good Day To Die Hard wasn’t, right down to having Beethoven on its soundtrack, a glasses-sporting techno-geek (Jimmi Simpson) and a bad guy (Jason Clarke) with a beef against Channing’s blue-collar fly in the ointment.
With his stumblebum demeanour and “why me?” testiness, Tatum makes a more likeable lead than OHF’s Gerard Butler and fosters a winning rapport with Foxx as they sneak about trying not to get blown up and shot. (Their bazooka-blasting spin around the grass in Sawyer’s ‘Beast’ limousine is a second act standout.)
Sadly, Emmerich bottles out of any lasting character interplay in favour of one big bang after another, trashing choppers, presidential aircraft and oval-shaped offices with a casual abandon only a $150m budget can afford.
It seems peculiarly wasteful to have Maggie Gyllenhaal, Richard Jenkins and James Woods pad out the ensemble only to drown them out with rocket launchers, tanks and hand grenades.
Had White House Down tried to subvert the usual clichés instead of using them as crutches, the makers might not be looking at a hole in their balance sheet bigger than any left in the titular mansion’s masonry.
Longer than OHF and just as daft, WHD makes for a more entertaining watch before succumbing to the same bombastic overkill.