White House Down

A current news item by the responsible pro-Israel news aggregator HONEST REPORTING caught my attention:

An Investigative reporter smuggles a gun into Knesset and points it at the Prime Minister. Was this gutsy or reckless journalism? And what does it mean for the rest of the press corps?

For everything breathing near the vicinity of this review, Israel is famous for its prodigious security measures, whether to a SuperSol grocery market or important governmental structures. So someone able to get around the almost unwieldy security of the government seat is worthy of huge concern, even if it is a deplorable stunt.

This gets us to the matter of the latest Emmerich offering. He hasn't always been the provider of enormously unlikely plots: Independence Day (1996) was a mega-hit, but also targeted the Washington, DC, government residence that symbolizes our country; The Day After Tomorrow, in 2004, a superheated pander to climate change tin-hat alarmists, also opened big and made a respectable opening return ($68.7mm) despite its overdone, under-proved premise and the reams of critics who doused its plot-points.

White House Down, however, asks us to suspend disbelief time after time in watching a gang of immaculatelytrained anti-President Sawyer (an unconvincing, arrogant and poorly cast Django/Jamie Foxx, as our "47th president," clearly modeled on the inept but similarly hued 45th) white militia reactionaries (make your own acronym) nativists taking over the White House. They get into the pantry. They mow down the presumably best-trained security people in the world without getting a shin-splint, let alone a hair singed by return fire. And they manage to amass an arsenal of heavy weapons and computer wizardry that would be of intense interest to the Chinese, Koreans or Tehran. Are we to believe white supremacists are the big baddies now? No whisper of terrorists of Mideast stripe?

For those following along, the photography and pacing work are great, even if the plot is a near rip-off of this very year's Olympus Has Fallen, and, to my mind, the much-loved, much-seen Die Hard franchise.

In this takeover, the part of Bruce Willis/John McClane, tough guy and macho symbol, is played by the country's leading buff buffet, the man who lets lots of us go to sleep dreaming of Magic Mike, Channing Tatum ("Sexiest Man alive, 2013" or some such People hype, though arguably accurate), here seen to almost perfect advantage in his singlet despite hails of heavy weapon fire and major acrobatics inside and out. You'll find no complaints from this end, but it beggars belief that this unvetted, self-appointed presidential Security detail man would be the lone Johnny on the spot to see threat when others are still gibbering. What?

In the genre vernacular, the hostages taken to some inner WH sanctum remain untouched, yet dozens of functionaries and Security units are cut down without a clear look at their faces.

The film forgot that the sequester cuts made the incumbent prez shutter the White House daily tours to save some $17,000 or so (but went on a whirlwind family-accompanied Africa visit for a mere $100 million of your tax dollars). So the very start of the film reads false, as buff Daddy Channing T took his 11-going-on-35 daughter on one of those verboten tours at the very moment the crack bandidos of ammoschaft and war decided to take out the presidential headuqarters. Uh, no.

One of the great things about this film -- which reaped such raspberries from both sides of the aisle as "Pure 100% Obama porn," (David  Stein, CounterContempt), and "[...] typical Hollywood  liberalism with gigantic  firearms" (Asawin Saebsaeng), followed by a  final jab: "[...] One enormous pander to the most naïve impulses of your average dime-store liberal" -- is that the production was scrupulous in re-creating a terrific, identical White House for purposes of destroying, shooting, ram-bam-boobling the POTUS residence in the course of the [fantasy] takeover. The itinerary of rambling fly-on-wall through these endless, and endlessly interesting historic rooms barnacled with priceless heirlooms from all 44 prior presidents, is a privileged exercise.

And it puts to the reality test the recent statement by the First Lady that living in the WH is "like living in a prison; a very nice prison, yes, but still a prison...."   The living quarters are from all appearances exquisite, and we have zero sympathy for the FLOTUS' sentiments. Bowling alley, tennis court, swimming pool, movie theatre, on and on, as well as dozens of loos and 128 rooms to decide to drop your sandals and kick back with a brewski and the latest off-color lyrics from Jay Z or Kanye.

It hurts to see the fictional ease with which this boffo band of brigands can so easily murder dozens of supposed inner circle security details, how the air space is compromised and the communications centers are so friggin' easily commandeered by a crazed, geeked-out nerd. It hurts to see how Tatum's scowling daughter is the only thing between total control of the private presidential digs and the excluded news media. Really?

But we've seen this before, with a more contained and more honorable and less obnoxious know-nothing as president, and a doughty hero saving the day. Isn't it time that a plot did not use smashing things as the sine qua non of every takeover scene? Do we have to have the Jurassic Park raptor scene just drop in humans but work the same emotions and camera angles?

And while we're at it, would it be too much to ask that the bad guys be played for a change by unknowns, instead of the same villains we have seen in dozens of hellfire and Limoges flicks for a wearying decade and more? Can anyone ever return fire and wing a badguy, once? And must the protagonist always be divorced and on the outs with his former family?

Must Maggie Gyllenhaal be the one to be proven wrong, but save the day? Do we have to see the supposed non-Obama president chomp Nicorettes for his secret smoking Jones? And the puerile agenda of this unconvincing and egotistic POTUS (serious casting error, guys) that assuming withdrawing all our forces from all nations will reap world thanks and peace?

Snowden shows us, again, we are not beloved for our gestures, our foreign aid, our tolerance of infiltrating malfeasants. Can anyone in the script-room be that ignorant of history and realpolitik? Have they never read a military pamphlet or studied political science?

Guess not: Visitors to the White House are walking around on the tours that have long been canceled in an economizing gesture for months. But since the plot springs from a WH tour for Tatum and daughter, they could scarcely remove that element of utter falseness.

But hearteningly, the first week's global grosses for the film, which cost $150 mm to bring to theatre seats, were only $32 mm, far less than its earlier incarnations (Olympus Has Fallen earned $161 mm since its March 22 open; Die Hard and its five sequels, still ongoing, earned many multiples of initial investment and production costs).

Last point. The title clearly references Black Hawk Down, a much better, and more powerfully moving, film that shows us the tiny vector points between success and infinitesimally unfair failure. Next time, let the producers select a title that does not declare what a shortchanged unparallel experience we are about to witness.