My wife labeled it “formulaic.” Well, sure; right down to the ending when, just when you thought it was all wrapped up, there was one last twist. Every narrative work is formulaic: introduce a protagonist, give him a problem, and things get worse before they get better. White House Down followed the formula, and did it extremely well.
John (played by Channing Tatum) is the protagonist – along with President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx). The mentioned review said movies featuring a president typically model him on whoever’s in office at the time, and that was certainly true here, right down to the Nicorettes in the desk drawer. Except for his glasses; that was the only difference. And his machine-gunning a bad guy. (Can’t quite see Obama doing that.)
John happens to be, with 11-year-old daughter Emily, on a normal White House tour, when it’s interrupted by an invasion of heavily armed baddies. John was there because he’d interviewed for a Secret Service job. He was turned down. Guess what? By film’s end, he’s proven himself overqualified for the job, by saving the president and, indeed, the world – not quite single-handedly, but with of course some indispensable help from precocious and heroic Emily (who will probably be elected the next president after the Constitution’s 35 year age requirement is repealed).
My wife didn’t think the story was plausible. I worried it might provide a roadmap for real terrorists. But this was actually an inside job, spearheaded by the chief of the Secret Service himself (going rogue for reasons difficult to swallow). I’m not giving much away because his role was revealed quite early in the movie. But he had a co-conspirator at the highest level (the twist at the end) which I won’t divulge.
One thing I never find plausible in films like this is how much physical punishment the hero can take and remain ambulatory, indeed with undented savoir faire. We recently Netflixed Shane, but quit watching after the ridiculous barroom brawl scene where Shane took, like, 1576 punches, any one of which would put anybody in the hospital, and walked away unfazed.
John was similarly impervious to repeated ultra-violence throughout the film, at the end of which he was as jaunty as if he’d just exited a health spa.
The bad guys, of course, did not fare so well. As soon as they burst in shooting everyone in sight, it was a slam dunk that none would get out of this film alive. Of course all the Hollywood liberals oppose capital punishment – but not in their movies, where for real creeps there’s no namby-pamby take-them-alive nonsense. I couldn’t quite follow just how John somehow managed to get a grenade-like thing unremovably in the baddest bad guy’s mouth; but never mind, it was a nice touch.
You’ll also enjoy the fate of the guy who was the world’s greatest hacker, until he wasn’t.
My wife said she felt the movie manipulated her. Well, true enough, but isn’t that precisely why we watch movies? To have our emotions manipulated? That’s the very experience we’re seeking in the theater, and a film that failed to deliver it would be awfully dull.
Manipulating us politically is another matter. Of course the villains here were right-wing. But talk about implausibility: who’s really behind the plot to seize the White House and start a nuclear war? Why, defense industries fearing the President’s peace plan will dent their arms sales! Hollywood does relentlessly portray business people as ruthless villains, but this goes a bit far.
But I wasn’t actually put off by this because it was obviously not to be taken too seriously; this was not a political film, but an action film, with the political plot just a device to get the action going. And go it did. If you like explosions in movies, this one’s for you.
Formulaically, then, it did require good to prevail. And to suspensefully prevail by the slenderest of margins. I couldn’t help wondering whether the film makers weren’t tempted to let that nuclear button get pushed, rather than stopped, at the last second. That would have been a much different movie.
But it is what it is. And it was an enjoyable entertaining experience.