White House Down (2013)

2015 #51
Roland Emmerich | 126 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

White House DownUS Capitol policeman Channing Tatum is visiting the White House, trying and failing both to impress his estranged daughter and get a job in the Secret Service, when terrorists attack and try to take President Jamie Foxx hostage. Tatum rescues him from some of them, but with the rest occupying the building the stage is set for “Die Hard in the White House”.

White House Down is less known for that pithy (but accurate) summary than it is for being released the same summer as Olympus Has Fallen, which has virtually the same plot. This had the misfortune of coming second, meaning it took less at the US box office and was dismissed by some critics, too. That said, others — particularly over here, apparently — assert it’s the better of the two. I think where your opinion is likely to land is most succinctly summed up in Film4’s review by Rebecca Davis: “Whether or not you enjoy this film depends entirely on whether you judge it to be po-faced or parody. If you believe it’s the former, you’ll probably hate it. If you believe it’s the latter, you’ll have an absolute blast.” That’s bang on, and I definitely judge it to be a parody. To clarify, not an out-and-out Airplane-style parody, but very much a self-aware retro-styled tongue-in-cheek Action Movie.

I can’t help but feel that most of the movie’s critics didn’t get in on the joke, but I’m really not sure how they missed it. Perhaps they have to watch so much poorly-made crap that they can’t spot when something’s been done deliberately. But White House Down is so gloriously, unashamedly cheesy that it has to be deliberate, and it’s so much fun because of it. It’s certainly not original, nor particularly clever, but a healthy awareness of the inherent ludicrousness of the very concept (and of all the clichés of the genre) keep it entertaining throughout. And based on everything I’ve read, it probably does a better job of being a Die Hard movie than the last couple of real ones have.

It's not a Die Hard movie, honestIf there’s a downside, it’s that this $150 million movie looks like it was made for closer to $15. There’s an overabundance of digital sets, ‘exteriors’ obviously shot on incorrectly-lit soundstages, and terrible CGI. Goodness only knows where all that money went — the actors’ salaries? Tatum and Foxx are good, but I’m not sure they’re worth that much. And here’s a good a time as any to say that this year I’ve become a bit of a Channing Tatum convert. I’d written him off because, to be honest, he looks a bit of a lug and I still think he’s woefully miscast as Gambit in the forthcoming X-Men spin-off. He’s brilliant in this and 21 Jump Street, though, showing a real likeability and flair for comedy. Someone should really team him up with the equally comically adept Dwayne Johnson.

Anyway, White House Down: it may be derivative and look practically direct-to-DVD cheap, but get yourself in the right frame of mind and it’s a ton of fun. It’s a shame the po-faced Olympus Has Fallen was a bigger hit (in the US — worldwide, White House Down won) and is getting sequelised, because I’d far rather see a second adventure for this President/protector pairing.

4 out of 5

Tomorrow, my review of Olympus Has Fallen.

Stranger Than Fiction (2006)

2007 #81
Marc Forster | 108 mins | DVD | 12 / PG-13

Stranger Than FictionAnother of Empire’s best films of last year (this one was 21st).

Forster is developing an eclectic filmography, with Oscar-nominated dramas Monster’s Ball and Finding Neverland alongside psychological thriller Stay and the 22nd Bond film. Stranger Than Fiction is different again, melding several styles into a cohesive whole — mystery, rom-com, existentialism, a bit of fantasy, and those IKEA graphics from Fight Club. Some plot beats may be clichéd, but that’s almost the point; besides, there’s plenty of originality to make up for it. A few plot turns in the final act also make sure you’re never certain how it will end.

4 out of 5

Stranger Than Fiction placed 5th on my list of The Ten Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2007, which can be read in full here.

Secretary (2002)

2007 #34
Steven Shainberg | 107 mins | DVD | 18 / R

SecretaryI seem to recall reading that Secretary attempts to depict a realistic and sympathetic dominant/submissive relationship. Unfortunately this seems to come a bit unstuck with the feeling that the relationship is initially based in an emotionally (and physically) abusive act against a clearly vulnerable character, leaving the following events and mutually loving resolution tinged with a hint of something akin to Stockholm Syndrome, in my opinion.

Well acted and all, but fundamentally flawed.

3 out of 5