Checking in at fourth place in the box-office tally during its opening weekend does not bode well for “White House Down.” With the similarly-themed “Olympus Has Fallen” preceding it by three months, “WHD” needed more than just typical Roland Emmerich-directed mass destruction to distinguish it. Unfortunately it falls short.
Once again we have a story wherein the White House, probably the most impenetrable building in the world, being compromised, the president betrayed and put into peril by people he trusted, and the future of the country now at stake. As with many other films of this nature, the person who rises above it all, who survives while the other highly-trained specialists are cut down, is the unexpected hero.
Unlike “Olympus,” in which the president, played by Aaron Eckhart, spends much of his time as a helpless hostage maintaining a brave front, the president in “WHD,” portrayed by Jamie Foxx, gets to engage in more action, eluding the bad guys and even taking some weapons in hand.
Channing Tatum plays the reluctant hero, Cale, a familiar characterization for this role — a man of potential but a misfit with a personal life that is in tatters. He wants to become a Secret Service agent but is turned down by the agent in charge, Finnerty (Maggie Gylllenhaal), who later spends most of her time in a bunker looking worried and desperate. His marriage over, he also is coming up short in being a part-time father to his 11-year-old daughter Emily (a scene-stealing Joey King).
In an effort to score points with Emily, Cale secures tickets to a White House tour that just happens to take place when the bad guys begin carrying out their diabolical plan. Explosions and thousands of rounds of artillery later, the White House is in the hands of the villains, Emily is among the hostages and Cale and President Sawyer are slinking around within the bowels of the great structure, trying to stay one step ahead of being captured. Elsewhere, those representing U.S. military muscle are finding themselves handcuffed in their attempts to rescue the president and neutralize the attack.
On the plus side, there are moments of intense action, and Tatum and Foxx do share some rapport. Most of the bad guys are mercenaries, and when a couple of them slap around Emily, you just know they have been penciled in to die magnificently later in the movie. Cale and Sawyer overcome one obstacle after another while the villains strut and bray and foam at the mouth as things start to come undone.
All of this came in at a price tag of about $150 million, so the paltry $25.7 million “WHD” brought in, which did not even match the second-week take of another film proving disappointing at the box office, “World War Z,” is not very encouraging. Plus, any hope of word-of-mouth is fading. These days it is not word-of-mouth as much as it is word-of-social-media, and the sentiment out there is testy. Postings are showing umbrage at the political leanings of “WHD,” which show one side of the issues as calm and reasoning and the opposing side as conniving lunatics willing to kill people to achieve their goals.
No doubt about it, in the 1990s,Emmerich set the standard for depicting destruction on humongous levels, but these days other movie-makes have caught up to him, and some have surpassed him in showing flash among the chaos.