Moviegoers got two films in 2013 that featured terrorists taking over the White House. The first of these was Olympus Has Fallen, a movie that I found to be quite entertaining despite some obvious flaws. 'White House Down' cost twice as much to produce, but sadly isn't half as much fun.
Directed by Roland Emmerich, who has become the modern-day version of Irwin Allen – giving us one disaster movie after another, essentially brings viewers 'Die Hard in the White House', right down to his hero sporting a 'wife-beater' t-shirt during the second half of the film. Given the talent attached to this project both in front of and behind the camera, 'White House Down' should work. However, it takes so many missteps (again, both behind and in front of the camera) that it winds up being a disappointment. There are some good moments in the film, but it never quite works the way it should.
Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx are the leads here, with Tatum playing John Cale, a wannabe (he doesn't get past the interview stage) Secret Service agent to Foxx's President James Sawyer. Cale finds himself inside the White House where – after screwing up his interview – he accompanies his daughter, Emily (Joey King), on the White House tour. This is, of course, when all hell breaks loose and terrorists start taking over the building. The mastermind behind the attack is none other than the head of the Secret Service himself, Martin Walker (James Woods), who has his own personal vendetta against the Sawyer administration (which I won't reveal in this review). Of course, Screenplay Writing 101 means that Cale will get separated from his daughter (thus giving our hero motivation) and – naturally – team up with the President himself so the leader of the free world can see what a great agent Cale will make.
I don't really have an issue with either the plausibility of the plot or its 'paint by numbers' progression (Olympus Has Fallen was just as implausible and predictable, but as I noted already, a whole lot of fun). The problem here is that 'White House Down' can't seem to decide if it wants to be a serious thriller (as 'Olympus' was) or a tongue-in-cheek comedy, and by jumping back and forth between the two throughout the movie, it manages to fail at being either.
Take, for example, Jamie Foxx as the President. Now if you're given a role like this, there are two ways to play the character – either as a total politician or as a fellow action star to Tatum's character. But Foxx plays Sawyer all over the map, depending on the scene he's in. In some scenes he seems like a typical politician, in other scenes he's comic relief, and in other moments he's fighting side by side with Tatum. I suspect that Foxx didn't want to make his President (whose only resemblance to the current occupier of the White House, other than skin tone, is the fact that he's trying to stop smoking) too much of a superhero, but if you're going to hire Foxx for this role, why not let him be as charming and kick-ass as we've seen him be in other movies?
James Woods as baddie Walker is also an issue. Woods is arguably the best actor in 'White House Down' and his motivation for the attack on the White House (again, which I will not give away in this review) is plausible enough that a better screenplay would have made his character much more of a sympathetic one. For the first half of 'White House Down', Wood's Walker is the most interesting person up on the screen. Sadly, however, he's turned into one more of those screaming, psychopathic bad guys by movie's end.
Of course, 'White House Down' is supposed to be big summer 'popcorn' fun, so if the characters aren't as well rounded as we would like, at least lots of stuff blows up, right? Well, yes – tons of stuff blows up in the movie, perhaps even more than did in 'Olympus'. Sadly, the quality of the special effects aren't what one would expect from a movie that cost this much. Helicopters, planes, and many D.C. landmarks (including the White House itself) look exactly like what they really are: CGI-rendered versions of the real thing. Even worse than those shots are the many, many green screen shots in the movie where the outline of the actor in the forefront and the rendered shot in the background don't color-match, and what should be seamless is visibly flawed. 'Olympus' got some heat earlier in the year from viewers complaining that many of its scenes looked fake, but trust me when I say 'White House Down' looks much worse.
Even with all the problems listed above, 'White House Down' isn't a complete failure. It's still action-packed enough to warrant a rental if one is looking for a few hours of mindless entertainment. It's definitely one of those films that comes close to falling into the 'so bad, it's good' category, which – I suppose – can be said of a handful of the movies that Roland Emmerich has directed. Still, if you're only going to watch one 'terrorists take over the White House' movie this year, 'White House Down' is not the movie to see.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'White House Down' explodes onto home video in a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD combo pack that houses the DVD, Blu-ray and insert with a code for an UltraViolet copy in a standard Blu-ray keepcase. A slipcover matching the artwork of the slick fits overtop the case. Also inside is a second insert advertising the Sony Entertainment Network. The reverse side of the slick (seen from the inside of the case) features a still from the movie of Channing Tatum crashing through one of the White House windows.
Both the DVD and Blu-ray versions of the film are front-loaded with trailers for After Earth, Elysium, Grown Ups 2, and This is the End. However, the Blu-ray starts off with an advertisement for one of Sony's new 4K televisions, while the DVD starts with an UltraViolet ad. Both the DVD and Blu-ray menus consist of a depiction of Tatum exiting a burning White House (not a still from the movie, but rather the image that was used for one of the teaser posters for the film), with selections along the bottom of the screen.
In addition to this combo pack version, Sony is also selling a DVD/Ultraviolet combo pack. Retailers Best Buy and Target are offering their own versions of this release, with exclusive content that doesn't appear on other versions.
Sony often delivers top-notch video transfers of their recent theatrical releases, and 'White House Down' is no exception, offering a crisp, colorful transfer full of detail and with no noticeable problems/glitches in terms of artifacting, aliasing, banding, or other frequently seen issues. However, having seen 'White House Down' in the theater over the summer, I can say that the picture seems both a bit darker and a bit more over-saturated than what I remember the movie looking on the big screen. Now if the opposite were true – if the movie looked brighter on Blu-ray, I'd just mark that down to my movie theater dimming their bulb (as most theaters do), but since the opposite is true, I suspect that Sony dialed it down a bit for Blu-ray – quite possibly to try and better mask some of the less-than-stellar F/X in the film (the green screen shots involving actors are particularly noticeable throughout).
Anyway, regardless of whether 'White House Down' looks exactly the way it did in theaters or not, details are well-done here, blacks are inky deep, and contrast is solid throughout. So while the film looks a little darker than I remember, viewers are going to be quite pleased with the transfer they get here.
As one might expect for an action movie of this magnitude, the English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is quite active throughout and provides for an immersive and fun experience. Dialogue is crisp and, for the most part, nicely balanced with the louder events that occur elsewhere in the movie (although, frankly, the explosions can sometimes be a little overbearing, so the balance isn't perfect here, although it's something only audiophiles will nitpick about). Directionality is well-done and noticeable, as helicopters (and other vehicles) can be heard swooping from a back speaker to the front, or vice versa. There's some nice low-end activity as well, providing rumbling or booming where appropriate.
In addition to the English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, also available is a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track in Portuguese, as well as 5.1 Dolby tracks in French, Spanish, and Thai. Subtitles are also available in English, English SDH, Cantonese, Chinese Simplified, Chinese Traditional, French, Indonesian, Korean, Malay, Portuguese, Spanish, and Thai.
Looking at the back of the box cover, one might think that 'White House Down' is loaded with bonus goodies. However, this is far from the truth. What we have here is yet another example of a disturbing studio trend of taking material that should be a single documentary on the disc and dividing it up into smaller, shorter segments so potential buyers get the impression that they're getting a lot more extras for their money than they really are. The truth of the matter is that the 'White House Down' disc offers up approximately 65 minutes worth of material – with about half of it being self-congratulatory fluff.
The good news here is that followers of Roland Emmerich's career should know exactly what type of movie they'll be getting with 'White House Down'. The bad news is that doesn't make it any better of a film. The movie can't seem to decide if it wants to be a tongue-in-cheek comedy or a serious action film, and winds up not doing either very well. Rent it.