‘White House Down’ Makes You Miss John McClane

The difference between a good action movie and a mediocre one can be summed up with one example. When John McClane (Bruce Willis) fights the bad guys in the original Die Hard, he does so in bare feet, running through broken glass without uttering so much as a grunt of discomfort or allowing the razor sharp shards to slow him down.

In White House Down, the most famous residence in the world is under siege, bodies are piling up and Jamie Foxx, who plays the leader of the free world, stops to change into a pair of overpriced sneakers. The message the filmmaker is trying to send: this guy is cool under pressure. The message received: this guy’s priority is the need for sensible shoes.

Nobody wants to pay upwards of $15 bucks to see an everyday Joe action hero. Today’s action stars are synonymous with the superheroes they play: Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Christian Bale as Batman, Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Chris Evans as Captain America, to name a few. This requires mere human characters to possess superhuman characteristics like Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) or military training like Liam Neeson (Taken).

Gone are the days when the likes of Harrison Ford, Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood ruled the multiplex. Even actors who made a name for themselves in the genre have abandoned it, or at least its more traditional roots (Will Smith and Tom Cruise).

Now everybody is genetically engineered or modified in some way. Even John McClane evolved over the course of the Die Hard franchise from just a renegade cop into a tireless terrorist fighting machine similar to the Terminator.

Channing Tatum is far from a proven box office draw when it comes to carrying an action film. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was a critical disaster, but the box office was respectable enough to garner a sequel, but Tatum only appears in the first few minutes.

His character in White House Down, Cale, is far too pretty and not that bright. He lacks the rugged good looks or sense of humor to become the second coming of John McClane. Before you balk at the comparison between the two actors and the two films, you should consider the similarities.

Both characters have marital woes, although Cale’s is more attributable to Peter Pan Syndrome with a little bit of absentee father thrown in for good measure. Tatum’s real family conflict is with his daughter who, like McClane’s kids, calls him by his first name, John. He’s a member of the Capitol Police force which nowadays has the potential to be as hazardous as the NYPD. He’s a war hero but has a problem with following through on tasks. In terms of professional success, he gets in his own way. Sound familiar?

In both films, trips to the restroom prevent the men from being taken hostage. After being thrown into unfamiliar surroundings, these men operate on instinct and with a little help from some friends. John McClane has support from an ally not on the premises, a pudgy patrolman. John Cale’s connection to the outside world is the head of Secret Service played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. McClane’s wife is smart enough to keep her identity a secret from Hans (Alan Rickman) and company as does Cale’s daughter, but in the end, both are used as leverage.

If that’s not enough there’s also elevator shafts, disgruntled minions, a computer geek, a big explosion, and leading men wearing wife beaters. There is, however, one glaring omission: Cale fails to coin a catchphrase.

At times, it seems the movie could have found footing by building camaraderie between Tatum and Foxx. But Tatum’s character is saddled with a daughter, which serves as too much of a distraction since his primary concern is the safety of his child, as opposed to the leader of the free world whom he is charged to protect.

Further, what little humor can be derived is sporadic and falls flat. However, this movie fails to work off the buddy comedy angle that has carried so many action flicks to that next level. Foxx and Tatum will never join the ranks of Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy, Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan or even Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone.

Foxx, a highly-respected leading man in his own right, is forced to suppress his legitimate talents as an actor/comedian, so he doesn’t overshadow Tatum. Aside from Collateral, Foxx’s resume doesn’t boast an impressive array of action movies. The lead actors are horribly miscast. Tatum excels in romantic dramas or, like John Travolta, in a movie that showcases his stellar dancing skills. Foxx should stick to dramas, thrillers or satire. Since the two lack chemistry, the film might have benefitted from one protagonist.

Poor casting choices aside, White House Down never had a chance, given that the film shares its primary plot of bad guys infiltrating and then seizing control of the presidential residence, with the superior Olympus Has Fallen. In the latter, the primary villain in the film is from North Korea, one of America’s real life threats ever since the Cold War ended. The protagonist is a previous member of the president’s secret service detail, he’s loyal, smart and organized.

In White House Down the bad guys are mercenaries so incompetent and disorganized, it’s hard to imagine they could wrangle a box of kittens much less best the security detail surrounding the president. They answer to an insider, a disgruntled, yet patriotic employee (James Woods) with a grudge against the Middle East.

The creative minds behind White House Down got one thing right: the good guys win.

There are an abundance of special features, almost all of which deal with the special effects and technical aspects of the film. There are several featurettes devoted strictly to a car chase, yes, a car chase that takes place on the White House lawn. Surprisingly, there’s a blooper reel and a short homage to the films co-leads ironically entitled, A Dynamic Duo: Channing Tatum & Jamie Foxx.

RATING 2 / 10
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