Greg: Why are you people clapping?
Brian: [clapclapclapclapclap] MOOOOVIEEEMOOOOOVIEEEEEEMOOOOVIEEEEEEE [clapclapclap]
Greg: Sorry, we’ll get to that soon. First, let’s talk about the movie that everybody was clapping for, through, during, all the prepositions. All of them. “White House Down” is the new summer blockbuster action flick from director Roland Emmerich (“Independence Day,” “The Day After Tomorrow,” but not “Freaky Friday”) and it is exactly what you think it is. Lots of explosions. Some well-choreographed (and some not-so-well choreographed) fight scenes. Dumb, obvious jokes that are still kind of funny. Everybody looking sweaty.
Brian: “White House Down” enters an entirely new level of Exactly What You Think It Is, a level not reached by anyone since the 2006 Chicago Bears according to Denny Green.
Greg: The plot is pretty simple: Terrorists take over the White House and try to capture President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx), but they didn’t count on New York City cop John McClane (Bruce Willis), who came out to California to visit his estranged wife at Christmas.
Brian: It’s possible you’re thinking of “Die Hard,” though I’m not sure why, as I only noticed 70 or so lifted plot elements from the earlier film.
Greg: No, this is DC police officer John Cale (Channing Tatum) who coincidentally is in the White House with his estranged daughter when terrorists take over the building. And he has to save the President, his daughter, and the hostages WHILE single-handedly defeating a team of home-grown terrorists and mercenaries and rogue government elements. In a dirty white T-shirt. In an elevator shaft.
Brian: See? Nothing like “Die hard.” NOTHING AT ALL.
Greg: The good news here is that even when Foxx (“Ray,” “Bootie Call”) gets a little hammy and Tatum (“Magic Mike,” “21 Jump Street”) gets a little overly breathless, they still have really fun chemistry. As a mismatched pair, trying to stop Hans Gruber’s brother from stealing all the gold from the Federal Reserve, Willis and Samuel L. Jackson argue, laugh and—
Brian: You’re doing it again. I understand the confusion though, particularly when Foxx (“Moesha,” “C-Bear and Jamaal”) starts muttering two-thirds of the way through the film about how he’s “gettin’ too old for this shit.”
Greg: The bad guys are mostly pretty good, too. Jason Clarke (“The Chicago Code”) plays Stenz, the most menacing of the terrorists, but Kevin Rankin as Killick and Jimmi Simpson (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) as Tyler the hacker have most over-the-top fun. And that’s what this movie is: over-the-top. It’s a spectacle.
Brian: It is, and though I was completely ready to hate “White House Down,” I couldn’t completely do it. I accidentally had fun. I’m a more or less unapologetic Roland Emmerich aficionado, particularly when it comes to his large-scale disaster movies (“Independence Day,” “The Day After Tomorrow,” “2012,” and many, many more). He just knows how to make a really enjoyable stupid movie, and delivers pretty consistently. Maybe I just enjoy imagining him as an overexcited German (essentially Heimlich the caterpillar from “A Bug’s Life”) entirely unable to contain his joy about the fact that he gets to blow something else up today.
Greg: One problem I had was how cheap some of the spectacles looked. There are a few green screen scenes that are pretty glaring. The explosions, especially, looked very fake and a lot of the depth is missing in scenes supposedly taking place in front of the White House.
Brian: Yeah, a lot of the special effects were just not that good, though I think we can at least partially blame that on the fact that making a lot of large, real explosions happen in a post-9/11 Washington D.C. is perhaps not something Herr Emmerich would be able to talk our government into allowing.
Greg: Look, there are some very glaring plot holes. It’s amazing how the crack team of terrorists can’t miss until they suddenly can’t hit anything. Or how many dumb dumb dumb decisions are made by military intelligence. Movies like this require a good deal of suspension of disbelief. But holy hell does “White House Down” ask for more than usual.
Brian: It does kind of ask you to suspend a Humvee’s worth of disbelief from a 20-pound-test fishing line if you’ll excuse a metaphor born from years of Humvee fishing.
Greg: But the room we saw it with LOVED every second (except when two patrons got into a fight over talking during the movie) and they clapped and cheered at every turn. Maybe they thought the stars of the film were secretly sitting in the theater and needed their encouragement?
Brian: Boy, I tell you what: If our publicity screening audience’s reaction was any indicator, this thing’s gonna win a goddamn Nobel Prize. It got beyond ridiculous. Something explodes? Thunderous applause! A kid drops a kinda-funny line? Thunderous applause! A beleaguered White House tour guide literally beats a man to death with a historic clock? Thunderous applause! Not to get hung up on this, but this tour guide didn’t just knock the terrorist out; he pretty much unequivocally beats the guy’s head into chunky soup. No blood, of course, because that would mean it was a violent act, and that would be the wrong message to send to our children. The result? Again: uproarious laughter mixed with thunderous applause! There’s a longer, preachier story in this, but it’s the kind of thing I drink to avoid thinking about.
Greg: Look: “White House Down” isn’t going to win any awards, but that’s clearly not the goal. Roland Emmerich wanted to destroy the White House…again. And to make an occasionally funny, kind of predictable, but mostly entertaining action flick. Mission: Accomplished. Hang that banner on your aircraft carrier and call it a day, Roland. I give it three out of five Die Hard-ons.
Brian: I give it three city-sized flying saucers out of five.
“White House Down” is rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action and violence including intense gunfire and explosions, some language, and a brief sexual image.