The timing of “White House Down” is really unfortunate. “Olympus Has Fallen” was released three months ago with the same plot: a bunch of heavily armed gunmen take over the White House. The difference is that instead of foreign terrorists, this time the threat is from within.
It seems that the head of the Secret Service (played by James Woods) and the speaker of the House (played by Richard Jenkins) are in cahoots to bring down the presidency. They are apparently displeased with the politics of President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx), who is trying to withdraw troops from the Middle East, and in general reduce the American military. So they recruit a bunch of malcontents – neo-Nazis, ex-covert operatives who’ve been canned, anarchists and other right-wingers – to not only forcibly take over the White House, but also eliminate the president and vice president, so the speaker can become the president.
The action hero here is Channing Tatum, who plays Cale, a discharged Afghan vet, divorced and currently jobless. Cale was taking his daughter on a White House tour when all Hades broke loose, and he becomes our last best hope to get in the way of the terrorists and foil their dastardly plot. Oh, and along the way, he and the beleaguered president become sort of bunker buddies, complete with light repartee.
Are there overtones to the current political situation? Of course. It’s the radical tea party unleashed, and you could even interpret the movie as a kind of propaganda against the far right, but really, the preferable thing is to just accept it as the popcorn movie that it is, enjoy the action sequences, and try not to think too much.
The same would hold true for the other buddy movie, “The Heat,” starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. Bullock plays the uptight FBI agent, and McCarthy the loosey-goosey local cop, and they have a sort of odd-couple repartee going as an overlay to the buddy cop genre. They are both going after the same drug gang, and they really don’t want to work together, but circumstances dictate that they do.
What follows is a lot of raunchy dialogue, but no sex, no nudity, and no romance, either: just the two of them trading barbs and insults until they actually start liking each other, while the viewers develop affection for them as well.
In both movies, the bad guys are stopped and the good guys (and gals) become heroes. In both movies, it’s really about the repartee on the run: Foxx and Tatum, or Bullock and McCarthy. The bad guys are menacing at first, but in the end, are shallow caricatures. We’re not interested in them anyway. We just want to listen to the buddies play off each other’s energies. One’s a drama and one’s a comedy, but it’s still all about the sudden friendship, and how it can happen in very unlikely places.
RONALD P. SALFEN is the minister at St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.