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White House Down (2013)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 11/5/2013

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/31/2013

It's been a long time since we've seen this, but it's happened again. You would think that someone would be working to assure that it never occurred, but it has. What am I talking about? We've just had another incident in which two big Hollywood movies with the same basic premise were released very close to each other. How does this keep happening? In 1997, we had Dante's Peak and Volcano. In 1998, we had Armageddon and Deep Impact. That year also saw Antz and A Bug's Life. This year, we got Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down. When two movies go head-to-head like this, one is usually the clear winner. How will White House Down fare in this race?

As one would imagine, White House Down takes place in Washington, DC. John Cale (Channing Tatum) is a police officer who longs to be on the Secret Service. His estranged daughter, Emily (Joey King), is obsessed with government and politics. John has an interview with the Secret Service and, due to this, he's able to get White House tour passes, which impresses Emily. The pair arrive at the White House, just as President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) has returned from a trip. Meanwhile, a party is being thrown for Walker (James Woods), who is retiring from his position as head of the Secret Service. Everyone's plans change when an explosion suddenly rocks the Capital building. As confusion and chaos hit, armed men lead by Stenz (Jason Clarke) flood the White House and seize control. As the bandits search for the President, John and Emily get separated. It will be up to John to not only save his daughter, but the most powerful man in the world as well.

White House Down comes from Roland Emmerich, a director who is known for two things -- destroying the White House and making wildly uneven movies. He delivers both here. While he doesn't demolish the White House as he did in Independence Day and 2012, it certainly sees its share of damage and not unlike the building in Die Hard, it's going to need a paint job and a &%*$load of screen doors. Similarly, White House Down is not an uneven as some of his other films. Movie like Stargate and Independence Day have great openings and endings, but sag like a full diaper in the middle. In a nice change of pace, White House Down is able to maintain some momentum throughout its running time.

But, this doesn't mean that it's a good movie. As with Olympus Has Fallen, White House Down borrows heavily from the Die Hard playbook. John Cale, not unlike John McClane, is the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time. But, he does have some skills which he's able to use against the attackers. He communicates which officials on the outside and improvises a plan to save the day. John's daughter is put in place of McClane's wife and we get the added bonus of having President Sawyer work alongside John.

White House Down has chosen a great film to emulate and its blue-print seems solid, but it has two fatal flaws. First of all, its bites off more than it can chew. The fact that people are attacking the White House and endangering the President should be story enough, but Writer James Vanderbilt has loaded the movie with subplots and plot twists. This becomes one of those films which has multiple endings as more and more twists are revealed, when, all the while, we just want it to end. Ironically, the action takes far too long to get going, as the movie takes time setting up its many characters. The second issue is the film's tone, which becomes more and more silly as time goes on. Emmerich's films always get unintentionally goofy in places (remember when Cousin Eddie was flying a crop duster in Independence Day?) and White House Down is no exception. As if the bit with the tour guide isn't enough, the awkwardly earnest event which save the day in the end will have some members of the audience howling with laughter.

But, what about he ultimate question -- Which is better, White House Down or Olympus Has Fallen? For me, the clear winner is Olympus Has Fallen. While that film had its share of problems and was a non-stop ripoff of Die Hard as well, it was also an unapologetic R-rated action film which began with a bang and rarely let its foot off of the accelerator, allowing Gerard Butler to mercilessly beat everyone in sight. White House Down tries too hard to be a fun Summer action flick while also being "deep" with its multiple storylines, but the end result is a movie which is boring at times and needlessly hokey. No matter who you see as the winner, let's hope that this sub-genre has now run its course.

White House Down demonstrates the inherent drawback of impenetrable gates on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. I can only assume that Iíve been spoiled by Blu-ray Discs, as the transfer here looks pretty bad. On the plus side, the image is free from overt grain and defects from the source material. However, the picture is very dark, making it difficult to see the action at times. The picture is notably flat and the image is often soft, which hurts the level of detail. Flesh tones look waxy and uneven. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track takes advantage of the inventive mix found here, and we get multiple stereo and surround sound effects which illustrate the various activities taking place throughout the White House. These effects arenít very detailed, but they are prominent without drowning one another out. The subwoofer is very active and provides clean bass during the action sequences.

The White House Down DVD contains a few extras. "A Dynamic Duo" (4 minutes) explores the on-screen and off-screen relationship between Channing and Foxx. The two actors comment about one another and we see them on-set together. Stunt Coordinator John Stoneham Jr. and Emmerich talk about the stunts in the film in "Men of Action" (4 minutes), where we also see some rehearsal footage. "Roland Emmerich - Upping the Ante" (5 minutes) contains comments from the director and we see him working on-set. The piece touches on Emmerich's history of destroying the White House. "Meet the Insiders" (5 minutes) examines the cast and their characters.

Review Copyright 2013 by Mike Long