By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The year’s second Executive Mansion Under Attack thriller is a lot like the first one.
For openers, they’re both in the Die Hard mold –- or at least try to be. The premises are nearly identical, the motives of the villains are similar, and the comic-book style of action is the same.
So, in the head-to-head competition of dueling presidential thrillers, let’s call it a tie: that is, both films come up woefully short to about the same degree.
The first, Olympus Has Fallen, arrived in March, with Secret Service agent Gerard Butler trying to protect US president Aaron Eckhart.
White House Down features Washington, DC policeman Channing Tatum, who, while assigned to watch over the Speaker of the House, aspires to become a Secret Service agent, trying to protect Commander-in-Chief Jamie Foxx.
With little beyond mindless action on the ticket, Olympus Has Fallen fell down and could barely get up. White House Down takes a somewhat lighter approach, sprinkling gallows humor throughout.
The good news is that the comedic strain makes it somewhat more entertaining than its predecessor. The bad news is that this flippant approach undermines its already shaky level of authenticity even further and makes it seem gallingly callous about life and death.
When a heavily armed paramilitary group of domestic terrorists takes over the White House, Pres. James Sawyer (played by Foxx), who has just announced the controversial withdrawal of all US troops in the Middle East, is in mortal danger and the government is in big trouble.
John Cale, the Capitol cop (played by Tatum, who is also executive producer), happens to be in the White House at the time because he has just had an interview and been turned down for a position with the Secret Service, something he has always coveted, and has brought his young daughter (Joey King) along with him.
Swallowing his disappointment, he accompanies her on a White House tour, and gets separated from her when the attack comes.
So Cale must search for his daughter while he also tries to provide protection for the besieged president.
Veteran director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, Patriot, Stargate), who also produced and apparently just cannot stop trying to lay waste to the White House on film (which he did in each of the first three parenthetical credits earlier in this sentence), allows his film to get more and more preposterous as it proceeds, eventually riding off the rails as if it were doing it on purpose.
The screenplay by James Vanderbilt, from a story by Sheldon Turner, builds to a climax that is so over the top, so supremely silly, it seems a parody of itself.
Like Olympus Has Fallen, White House Down has a name supporting cast as well, with James Woods, Richard Jenkins, and Maggie Gyllenhaal figuring prominently.
But given the script they’re working from, everyone is swimming upstream.
One thing the films do not share is an MPAA rating. The earlier film was rated R, the new entry is PG-13. So more folks can and will see this one. Not that they’ll necessarily want to.
So we’ll protect 2 stars out of 4. White House Down marks the year’s second crack at the Oval Office Under Siege genre.
This just in: we’re still waiting for someone to do it right.