This spring/summer, in a bit of what I suppose is cinematic serendipity, Hollywood released two major films with White-House-Under-Siege themes. The first entrant was Olympus Has Fallen, (OHF), starring Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart. On its heels came White House Down, (WHD), boasting Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx in lead roles.
(Spoiler Warning — but, hey, keep reading; neither movie is so profound it’ll be ruined by anything you find out here).
The major bones of both flicks’ storylines are almost distractingly similar: the “People’s House” is murderously hijacked by a pack of world-class baddies, the president is imperiled harrowingly , an unlikely hero appears unbidden, accompanied by an adolescent side-kick of sorts, and explosively saves the day.
Each features respectable action sequences and special effects, is passably entertaining, and each film has its scattershot moments: Olympus‘s initial assault on the White House is punch-in-the-gut gripping; and, I confess, a heart-rending, slow-mo shot of “Old Glory”, unmasted and spiraling mournfully to the ground, put a tearful lump in my throat.
Meantime, halfway into White House Down the president (Foxx) and his slightly disoriented rescuer (Tatum) engage in an extended and unexpected car chase which churns up — I’m serious — the White House grounds. It goes on too long, but remains an amusingly creative episode.
Butler, as a disgraced, former Secret Service agent who becomes the tough-guy hero of Olympus, is more rough-hewn, and therefore more effectively convincing, than WHDown‘s callow Tatum in a mirroring role — but both get the dramatic job done.
Eckhart, portraying OHFallen’s comparatively buttoned-up Chief Executive saved by Butler’s character, is a more compelling figure than Foxx’s president, although the latter’s “cool-factor” is, transparently, supposed to prove irresistible, wowing the audience (more on that shortly). Nonetheless, Foxx also competently hits all his marks.
OHF was directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Tears of the Sun) and so is darker than the occasionally giddy WHD. Olympus‘s second half sags noticeably (to be fair, how long can a studly protagonist skulk around the inner confines of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue before it starts waxing tedious — thus, WHD‘s smart use of the scenery-changing, car-chase-around-the-White-House-lawn segment). Conversely, Butler’s inevitable square-off against his film’s truly reptilian arch-villain struck me as somewhat bustled-along and, thus, somewhat anti-climactic.
White House Down, being an offering of director Roland Emmerich (Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012) is, characteristically, overdone: a bloated plot, overstuffed action-segments, pound-you-over-the-head story beats, ten minutes too long. Think: Olympus Has Fallen jammed full of steroids.
Superficial verdict: generally speaking, both flicks provided a couple hours of humming diversion for myself and my youngest son.
I will grouse, nevertheless, that, predictable of what has become de rigueur for our strangled-by-political-correctness age, in neither movie are the soulless malefactors Islamic terrorists. Olympus‘s miscreants hail from North Korea; WHD‘s from the United States — a dog’s breakfast of embittered ex-military, white supremacist and demented “America First” types.
Still, while Olympus seems studiously to avoid any overbearing political agenda, the same — screechingly — can not be said of its Jamie Foxx helmed competitor. There can be sparse doubt: the African-American actor is intended to be White House Down‘s stand-in for Barack Obama, a gimmick so glaring it’s actually cringe-inducing. Not just the duo’s obvious physical similarities, but the flick’s “first-lady” (a striking doppelganger for Michelle O), “President” Foxx’s goofily visionary, dovishly moralistic foreign policy (a driving element of the plotline’s crisis), even a brief sequence focused on the president’s conspicuously picking-out what my boy might call his “freshest pair of Jordans” — all, taken together, inescapably and flatteringly channel America’s current Oval Office occupant.