Down for a good time
By Carl Kozlowski
People often accuse Hollywood of running out of ideas, whether lamenting sequels and prequels or reboots. But it’s mercifully rare that Tinseltown spits out two movies in the same year that have ridiculously similar concepts but are actually from competing studios.
The last time I can recall such a blatant pair of parallel films was 1998, when viewers were subjected to Deep Impact and Armageddon in the same summer. Both movies were loud and dumb and, frankly, not much fun, with Impact exploiting the devastation that would occur if Earth were hit by a giant asteroid and Armageddon absurdly sending a crew of astronauts and oil rig workers up to blow an asteroid out of the sky before it could hit our planet.
But this year has brought us two movies so alike that their makers should be duking it out in copyright court posthaste. Olympus Has Fallen was released in March and featured a lone man, played by Gerard Butler, singlehandedly saving the White House from a crushing attack by North Koreans, while this Friday brings us White House Down, in which Channing Tatum saves the White House while teamed up with a de facto Barack Obama played by Jamie Foxx.
I missed seeing Olympus in time to review it for its release, assuming that it would be just the latest in a seemingly endless string of misguided mega-bombs starring Butler, who is box office poison. But once it shot to No. 1 its opening weekend, my curiosity led me to buy a ticket and I was thoroughly entertained on every level by a movie that might be the best of the “lone wolf” action genre since the original Die Hard a quarter-century ago. I went on to pay to see it two more times because I had to keep sharing it with buddies, and I highly recommend checking it out on DVD when it’s released Aug. 13.
White House Down initially suffers from the fact that it creates a strong sense of déjà vu in its opening minutes. Unlike Olympus, which has a harrowing stunt sequence in the first 10 minutes, Down waits a full 30 minutes before the action kicks in. But when it does, it’s a doozy — a massive explosion that turns the Capitol dome into a fireball.
By the time the dome has blown, the White House has been infiltrated by a ton of fake janitors and repairmen for the home movie theater, so it’s easy for the baddies to kill off Secret Service agents and other guards and take hostages. What they didn’t count on is that a DC policeman named John Cale is in the building as well, taking his daughter on an impromptu tour after suffering through a failed job interview for a post on the president’s security detail.
In the interview, Cale is presented with his pathetic track record of short-term jobs, a short-term marriage and the fact that he dropped out of college before finishing via night school. He’s also resented by his 11-year-old daughter Emily for being a frequently absent father. So with all these cards stacked against him, audiences can be sure that this is the day where Cale mans up and sees the job through in saving the world.
African-American President Sawyer also does a fine job of helping protect himself with an assortment of guns and knives—even a rocket-propelled grenade launcher—as the dynamic duo snakes through the White House’s hidden corridors and elevator shafts while picking off thugs. The most audacious and ridiculously entertaining scene involves Sawyer tossing Cale the keys to a super-bulletproof monster of an SUV called “Ground Force One” before they try to make a break for it in a wild chase on the South Lawn that involves both a tank and the aforementioned RPG launcher being utilized in front of a cheering crowd of thousands and seemingly every TV news camera on the East Coast.
Olympus benefited from amazing timing due to its release during the very week that North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-un, was threatening to nuke us, giving its concept of a North Korean attack an extra-powerful gut punch. Its nearly 20-minute, multi-pronged initial assault across Washington DC stands as one of the best action sequences ever. The evil plot in Down has its own interesting background, with some of the baddies being former Afghan war troops resentful of Sawyer’s plans for a total pullout combined with others who are white supremacists eager to take down a black president.
Thankfully, there’s room for both these movies to succeed, as both of them are immeasurably more ludicrous and entertaining than Deep Impact and Armageddon ever hoped to be. How can you not enjoy a movie in which a black president slips on his basketball shoes because his dress shoes are slowing him down, and then pays it off during a battle with a potential assassin by kicking the bad guy and screaming “Don’t touch my Air Jordans?”
The answer is you can’t. White House Down is often ridiculous, but it’s also a damn good time at the movies.