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The maestro of destruction, Roland Emmerich, is most successful when destroying Earth in films like Independence Day and 2012. Dialogue, character development and story arcs have never been the German-born director's strong suits, but his movies usually manage to blow stuff up good. Emmerich's latest, White House Down, is appropriately action-packed, but the very human antagonists seem slightly inadequate when compared with vengeful aliens or a pissed off mother nature. White House Down feels, dare I say it, small compared with some of Emmerich's better films. Of-the-moment stars Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx are adequately charismatic, but the film suffers from sloppily staged action sequences, choppy editing, and 20-plus minutes of unnecessary exposition. Rent White House Down and watch it while enjoying a few beers.
Mediocre things come in twos, apparently, particularly when discussing action movies. First there was the volcanic showdown of Dante's Peak and Volcano, and then there was the great space debate in Armageddon and Deep Impact. This year saw both White House Down and the grittier, R-rated Olympus Has Fallen stage attacks on the presidential mansion. Neither film is particularly good, though I'd probably give the edge to Olympus Has Fallen for its intense action. White House Down falls squarely into PG-13 territory, complete with bloodless violence and family friendly humor.
Tatum plays U.S. Capital police officer John Cale, whose disastrous interview to join the Secret Service is complimented by a terrorist attack on the White House. Cale and his daughter, Emily (Joey King), are trapped in the Oval Office when a group of mercenaries led by Jason Clarke's Emil Stenz forces their way into the building with insider help and begins hacking the country's missile defense system. Cole naturally finds himself protecting Foxx's President James W. Sawyer, who manages to duck the incoming terrorists and proves to be more capable at defending himself than his opponents anticipated. The remainder of the film's 131 minutes is spent staging gunplay and car chases across the White House grounds.
Emmerich provides a typically stacked cast, including Maggie Gyllenhaal as a U.S. Secret Service Agent, Richard Jenkins as the Speaker of the House, James Woods as the head of the president's security detail, and Jimmi Simpson as a computer hacker. Emmerich has long convinced serious actors to play dumb in his big-budget actioners, and White House Down is no exception. Each player does his best with the material, but the script does the actors no favors with its stale dialogue. Tanning and Foxx might play off one another well, but they spend precious little time on screen together. Both actors are given a number of DOA one-liners, and White House Down is most effective when its protagonists aren't speaking.
The biggest surprise here is how stale the action is. Emmerich can usually be counted on to create a visual spectacle, but White House Down is ugly and poorly shot. Most of the action is barely comprehensible and downright boring. Gun fights and a car chase in the presidential limo should be thrilling but barely register, and the suspense is nearly non-existent. That's not to say there isn't some fun to be had in White House Down, but I expected more. The visual effects won't be winning any awards either, and I noticed a number of glaring continuity errors, possibly the result of a rushed production schedule. At two-plus hours, White House Down is too noisy and not entertaining enough to warrant more than a rental.
Dodgy effects aside, the 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image is rather impressive. The image is sharp, deep and textured. Close-ups and wide shots are equally striking, and edges are perfectly sharp. Colors are nicely saturated, and the contrast is purposely boosted. There's a bit of black crush, some of it intentional, but skin tones are accurate. There are no issues with noise reduction or compression artifacts.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is appropriately engaging, with rambunctious action effects and excellent, dynamic range. Dialogue is crystal clear and balanced appropriately across the sound field. The score is impressively deep, and effects are immersive whether quiet and ambient or bold and action oriented. French, Spanish, Portuguese and Thai 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes are also included, as are a medley of subtitle options.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set is packed in an Elite Blu-ray case with dual-sided artwork. This "combo pack" release includes the Blu-ray, a DVD copy of the film and a code to redeem an UltraViolet HD digital copy. A shiny slipcover wraps the Blu-ray case. Extras include a number of unexciting featurettes: A Dynamic Duo (4:09/HD), The Beast (5:15/HD), Men of Action (3:43/HD), The Full Arsenal (4:47/HD), The Inside Story (2:53/HD), Presidential Treatment (4:28/HD), Roland Emmerich: Upping the Ante (5:08/HD), Crashing the Oval Office (3:49/HD), Drowning the Beast (3:25/HD), Recreating the White House (9:23/HD), and Meet the Insiders (5:13/HD). There's also a Gag Reel (6:04/HD) and a VFX Boundaries Breakdown (3:33/HD).
Roland Emmerich's films are of the popcorn variety, but some are better than others. Unfortunately, White House Down is not one of the action director's best, and it falls surprisingly flat due to choppy action and a bloated running time. Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx and a talented supporting cast do their best with the material, but White House Down won't stick with you for long. Rent It.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.