White House Down (2013) – Roland Emmerich (Dir.), Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, James Woods, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Richard Jenkins, Jason Clarke, Jimmy Simpson, that black guy from LOST, no, not that one, the creepy thin one, well, I guess he was in Fringe too, but I never saw that.
There are two ways to review this movie. Firstly, as the obsessive schadenfraude-loving schlock-queen I never wish to admit that I am; and secondly, as the shrewdly opined writer of screen reviews. There were a number of choices leading to the viewing of this sure-to-be-classic of the bargain bin. Perhaps the most impactful of all was that, in the spirit of the White House’s codename in IPA being Whiskey Hotel, I consumed what might be considered a Hotel California’s amount of whiskey in order to stomach all two hours. And boy, was it worth it. The secondary choice, which only made itself apparent the following day, was seeing this movie during perhaps the most celebratory Pride Weekend since the US government decided burning gay people at the stake isn’t really a good idea. But I’ll get to that in a minute.
So, what is White House Down? Oh so many things. Is it an action movie? Well, there’s certainly some action. Is it a comedy? I did laugh. A lot. Is it a political thriller? Well, it was thrilling. Political? I think this movie understands as much about US democracy as a two year old diabetic understands about chocolate milk. She likes it. She douses herself in it. However, after a little too much, she starts shaking and needs to be taken to the hospital. In the end, as I shambled from the movie theater, my friends hooting and hollering with glee at this giddily flamboyant pastiche of horrendous cliches mashed together into some kind of nauseating and soul-consuming patriot-paste, I had no earthly concept of what I had just witnessed. Whatever this movie might be, there is one unmitigated fact resting at the center of this mind-bending maelstrom. It is a film by Roland Emmerich.
What’s the story? Well, there’s this fellow
John McClane, I mean, Who-Gives-a-Fuck-Please-Just-Take-Off-Your-Shirt-Because-We-Know-It-Will-Happen-Eventually or, as you may know him, Channing Tatum. He plays a New York cop bodyguard to the Speaker of the House who is trying to become a Secret Service agent and simultaneously gain back the trust of his estranged wife daughter by hanging out with her at Nakatomi Plaza the White House. However, due to our hero being in the wrong place at the wrong time, terrorists take over and, with a computer hacker, a crazed madman and Alan Rickman James Woods (who looks as though a bald eagle took a shit on his scalp. Seriously, what’s with old dudes with terrible crewcuts in movies these days? First Sam Shepard then this? When I hit sixty, will I suddenly be overcome with the insatiable need to make my head look squarer than a geometry student’s wet dream?) they attempt to force Mr. Takagi President Schmarak Schmoschmama to open his vault the nuclear football. What follows is a frolic through the fields of excess so excessive you’ll have to excise it from your exithole before you leave the theater. But seriously, this script was basically the presidential Mad Libs of Die Hard. Beat by beat, it steals from possibly the greatest contained action movie of all time. From the ‘hiding above the elevator’ technique, to the scene where McClane, I mean, Channing “Sounds Like a Potato Dish” Tatum has to kill the terrorists on the roof to stop them from blowing up a helicopter. They even have a section where a tank is blown up with an RPG before it has a chance to ram into the building. I shit you not. However, I will admit, if you’re going to steal, steal from the greatest.
All of that bellyaching about the script has little meaning, however. Because, whatever this crapfest was on the page, is was turned into something else when it fell into Roland “Yes, He References Blowing Up the White House in a Previous Film He Directed IN HIS OWN MOVIE” Emmerich. Now, this is where the Pride Weekend comes in. I’m not sure if it’s okay to call Emmerich ‘King of the Gays’, but he has to at least be Archduke of the Gays. While Michael Bay might spend his Herculean and Dionysian efforts visually molesting his onscreen hotties and thereby frying our braincells in the process, Mr. Emmerich is up to something slightly more subversive. While he isn’t necessarily overtly misogynistic on the same level as, say, Mr. Bay, Emmerich rarely populates his films with too many women because, honestly, who needs all those jiggly bits flopping about? (I imagine Emmerich attempting to bat several double D boobies out of the way with an expression of deep concern and dread). This is a straight man’s movie, by all outward accounts. There are no obviously gay characters. There is no blatant homoeroticism a la 300. Rather, the flamboyance exists in every frame, subverting expectation at every turn. It’s as though Emmerich is making a John Waters film without any of the actual words or characters or things that happen in them. On paper, pretty much everything is blander than a bottled water tasting, but Emmerich ramps up every dial possible. In the aforementioned scene with the helicopters, when Delta Force is inevitably shot from the air, the soldiers falling from their ropes in slow motion look more like an aerial dance display than highly skilled killers falling to their fiery dooms. You’d think tumbling to their deaths they would lose some balletic grace, but not in an Emmerich film. And, not to give away the ending (I’m totally about to give away the ending), instead of Channing Tater Tots simply shooting James “He’s Always the Bad Guy, Why Would You Expect Anything Else?” Woods in the face with, you know, a regular gun, he obliterates him with a fucking gatling cannon after running him over with the president’s car IN THE OVAL OFFICE. I kind of wish we could go back in time and make this entire film with Divine instead of Chandra Taterskins. But, alas, we cannot. Yet…
While Emmerich’s other movies might be more epic than a bro’s night out after accidentally stumbling into Skrillrex’s coke-wagon, this one looks as though his budget was about as thin as my patience. It was so cheap that it seems he wasn’t able to hire a fucking cinematographer (the lighting is about as dynamic as a Mitch McConnell Comedy Tour) or more than three sets (ninety percent looks to have been filmed on green screen, while the other ten percent was probably filmed in Emmerich’s
sex cauldron home). Emmerich does what he can with what he has. From a road-runner-esque chase in the presidential motorcade on the White House’s back lawn to the necklace of grenades Chapstick Tattletale gives to the unfortunately visaged Jason Clarke (the man looks as though he cut off a baby’s face and stapled it onto his own, Hannibal Lecter-style), to Jamie “Why Does he Have Two X’s In His Last Name?” Foxx playing what I can only assume is Black Bush from that one Chappelle Show sketch (the Blackest President Ever actually says ‘Get your hands off my Jordans’), Emmerich milks this sucker for all it’s fucking worth. I mean, the insane white supremacist’s name is ‘Killick’. Like…come on. Come. On.
It is an interesting juxtaposition for me. Having inundated myself with political commentary of late, from the Daily Show to Armando “Best Name Ever” Ianucci’s brilliant Veep to the blahfest that was House of Cards, the US government is slowly making it clear that nothing can get done in this fucking country. From Congress to the Senate to a lackluster President, this country is becoming a paragon of agonizing inaction. So, thank you Mr. Emmerich, for shoving about thirty tons of TNT up its butt and giggling while you light the fuse (side note: due to the obvious snub by the destruction of Congress in Mars Attacks, Emmerich gets his own back by obliterating the mutherfucker. Take that Boehner!)
It is not a good movie. It is a great one. It is not skillfully made. It is greatly made. It will make you giggle every second it is playing, whether or not it’s intentional. And, I think, for Emmerich, it was. Why not make fun of gross hetero-male power fantasies by reducing and ridiculing? Also, way to make Obama seem like some kind of rap artist. I get the distinct feeling that Foxx probably thought to play President Sawyer as more Morgan Freeman than Kanye West, but ‘The Roland’ had other plans. At least it isn’t as racist as Transformers 2. I mean, what can you expect from a German dude who loves America more than he loves stuffed zebras? Well, he doesn’t love America that much.