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|Cinema Signal: Not quite a green light but has elements of strong appeal for a limited audience.||MOBILE: variagate.com/cinsigsm.htm?mobi ||
"White House Down"
The great relief of this semi-political fantasy action thriller is that it's not so much about partisan politics. The fun of it is that a reject government worker rises to extreme high-staked heroism. The only thing needed to enjoy it is ignoring the coincidences that dot the landscape. It's all for the sake of a high tension yarn.
One of the most appealing strongmen in the current acting universe to star as humble wannabe secret Service agent, Channing Tatum ("Magic Mike"), gives the pic a good chance to rise to hit status. The man with the big, perfectly proportioned muscles has perfected his ability to play adorably humble while saving the country and its institutions from a paramilitary band of disparate traitors, goons and a degenerate or two.
An important asset to director Roland Emmerich ("Independence Day," "2012") and screenwriter James Vanderbilt's ("The Amazing Spider-Man") propulsive setup is in production designer Kirk M. Petruccelli's ("The Incredible Hulk") White House re-creation. Given its presumed accuracy and the film's strong supporting cast, we're on solid ground for the intended audience.
Which, of course, is what we assume the most famous building in the world is on, as well, when Capitol policeman John Cale, who is on the protection detail for Speaker of the House Eli Raphelson (Richard Jenkins) earnestly applies for an upgrade to the Secret Service protecting President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) whom he greatly admires.
Unfortunately for him, the application must pass Secret Service personnel director Carol Finnerty's (Maggie Gyllenhaal) stern vetting. Bad for Cale in that she remembers him from their days as college acquaintances and his problem with authority. This destroys all hope for daddy Cale to impress daughter Emily who is fuming about his failure to show up for her school performance. To get past Emily's disappointment, daddy Cale brings her to the White House for a tour.
Which sets us up for a violent takeover of these hallowed grounds by a motley crew of extremist discontents. What is intended to make this hypothetical concept credible is that the person making it possible is the outgoing chief of the Secret Service who knows where the security weaknesses at the building on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are -- none less that the retiring head of the Secret Service Martin Walker (James Woods) who is Jonesing for revenge on those whose black ops mission resulted in the death of his son.
Let me repeat that: an invasion of the White House is possible because the head of the Secret Service is leading it. Really? Well, okay.
The team Walker has put together for this effort turns out to be a little less than unified or, even, sympathetic with his goal. Emil Stenz (Jason Clarke) ("Zero Dark Thirty") has his own views of what the objective of the invasion is. Between a range of gripes and motivations there seethes an internicine conflict, though none of it seems political. But, there is a great deal of heavy weaponry on the premises with heavier on its way to take everyone out.
Emily's presence in the building on this particular day unleashes Cale's heroism as he doubles down on what becomes a need to single-handedly protect the POTUS and the one other person in his life who he cares most about in his universe. He's in for a big day with lots of firepower, rising tensions and a totally unexpected rescue buddyship with the man who runs the country.
While Channing is always up for quick comedic timing laced with irony, Foxx's general inclination toward taking himself too seriously puts a lid on those opportunities, though some humor does sprout when they're not focused on the AK47's in the corridors. On the enemy side, Clarke adds a useful layer of high energy to his nasty enemy guy.
When neither the good guys nor the bad guys are able to locate our well-concealed duo, it's assumed that Sawyer is dead and, with a lesson in constitutional line of succession, Veep Alvin Hammond (Michael Murphy) and Speaker Raphelson are by turns sworn in as presidential replacements, with the first order of business each time being their biological imprints on the nuclear football that's always within a president's reach.
If you're not looking too closely at the logic guiding the tale (don't count the cliches), you've got a thriller action pic that should eventually see commercial profits despite a weaker than expected opening weekend. It made me wonder if Emmerich's scenario should have included a romance angle to bring in more of the mid-range audiences without alienating the action fanboys.
No question, though, that "White House Down" is a wonderful vehicle to cement Tatum to the comet he's on as a leading man. He's a big guy who does NOT, on screen, take himself too seriously. As action pic audiences have learned about him, he reliably delivers on his promise and our expectations.
But, he just should'a gone to Emily's performance.
~~ Jules Brenner