Hollywood movies are all starting to feel the same these days, but in some cases almost literally. Just check out “White House Down,” a “Die Hard”-in-D.C. popcorn flick that is almost exactly the same movie as “Olympus Has Fallen,” which was released earlier this summer. Great minds think alike, as they say, but based on the evidence of these two films, weak minds do too.
Roland Emmerich is no stranger to flag-waving jingoism (“The Patriot”) and wanton destruction (“Independence Day”), and as he did with both those films, he released “White House Down” just in time for America’s July 4 weekend, knowing there’s nothing Americans like better for holiday entertainment than watching their landmarks get destroyed by evildoers and then cheering “USA! USA!” when the bad guys are toast.
But there was just one little flaw in his plan this time: The president, played by Jamie Foxx, comes off as more than a little Obama-esque, while the bad guys are presented as tea-baggish right-wing nut-jobs, which pretty much guaranteed that conservatives would knee-jerk hate on it. The result: weak box office and days of talk-show uproar about “liberal Hollywood.”
With this one, they may have a point: The plot spins around President James Sawyer (Foxx), who makes a dramatic televised announcement that he has decided to pull all American troops out of the Middle East as a gesture of goodwill to Iran, and to focus America’s resources on fighting poverty instead. (Which is pretty much what the Tea Party people believe Obama has already done, and the liberals wish he’d do.)
Cue a group of ex-special forces, led by Emil Stenz (Jason Clarke), who set off a bomb in the Capitol and storm the White House, overwhelming the Secret Service detail led by Agent Walker (James Woods). Their goal: Get the president to give up his nuclear codes and use them to do bad things. Fortunately, decorated war hero (and former Velvet Underground member, ha ha) John Cale (Channing Tatum) is on a tour of the White House with his young daughter, and manages to grab a gun and escape. He must save the President, his girl and the nation, although not necessarily in that order.
Anyone who’s seen “Olympus Has Fallen” will already be experiencing déjà vu, even more so when the helicopter assault on the White House begins — it’s hard to believe there isn’t a lawsuit going on over who stole whose screenplay. When it comes to human G.I. Joe dolls, “White House Down” has the edge, with Tatum certainly a more likable star than the dour Gerard Butler in “Olympus,” and Emmerich gives him a “Lethal Weapon”-ish rapport with co-star Foxx. (Which must be a first: the president as buddy-cop.)
If you’ve ever wanted to see a car chase on the White House lawn, “White House Down” has you covered, but surprisingly -coming from director Emmerich, the undisputed king of big-budget destruction — the action here feels rather tame when compared with Antoine Fuqua’s insanely bullet-riddled “Olympus.” Still, watching the Capitol dome come tumbling down in a massive fireball, as bystanders flee and panicked reporters broadcast it live to the nation, it’s hard not to feel that all this 9/11 action porn is becoming a bit pathological.