You know me, I can enjoy a good DIE HARD type movie. Or a bad one. I like SUDDEN DEATH. I love the UNDER SIEGES, of course. And 3 of the 4 official DIE HARD sequels. But this year is trying to knock me off the wagon. We’ve had three mediocre to bad DIE HARD type movies so far and while A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD was obviously the one that was soul-crushingly disappointing, this is the one that I found most boring. I mean, I’m not gonna pretend Roland Emmerich is known for movies that are worth your time to actually watch, because that would be a bold faced lie. But I figured with this good of a cast and a classic template to follow he could make an enjoyably stupid movie. He mostly just got the second part.
Channing Tatum plays a fuckup Capitol Police officer whose daughter is a huge nerd for the White House and the president (Jamie Foxx) so he tries to get a job in the Secret Service to impress her. And brings her with him for the interview. When he gets rejected they decide to take a White House tour and while they’re there there’s an attack and only Tatum can protect the president, so they hide in an elevator shaft for a while, etc.
I’d heard this was basically a scene-by-scene remake of DIE HARD, but I don’t agree. Yes, they get him in a dirty white tank top. He has his relative hostage and the hostage-takers eventually figure out they’re related and use that against him. He is kind of estranged from his daughter, similar to being estranged from his wife. The part in the elevator shaft. Okay, there’s alot of similarities. But the overall feel is really different in a bad way, because this character is not as well drawn, he’s not reluctant, he’s not as desperate or as funny, he’s not alone, he doesn’t have the same sort of Bugs Bunny opposition to the villain, you don’t feel the pain or injury that much. There’s no Ellis. There’s no Karl. There’s no face-to-face with Grueber. I forget what happens to the villain.
I’m still pro-Tatum, and he’s pretty likable here as always, and is introduced talking to a squirrel, possibly in homage to a different Bruce Willis movie where he was introduced waking up with a dead squirrel on his head. But instead of the confident Tatum we saw in HAYWIRE it’s more like the mumbly, inward guy from STEP UP, which doesn’t really fit the asskicking dad trying to make an impression at the White House. And there doesn’t seem to be much thought put into what sort of action hero he’s supposed to be. He was in Afghanistan, that’s how they explain his skills. Is he an amazing unstoppable badass like Casey Ryback, who creates awe in his opponents? No, not really. Is he a tenacious, lucky bastard like John McClane, who runs in there against his better judgment and survives by the skin of his teeth? No, I don’t think so. What kind of stuff does he do? Oh, I don’t know, he runs in and shoots and stuff, I don’t remember any particular great moments. Some good high speed limo driving on the White House lawn, I guess. Trying to make Argyle obsolete.
Tatum and Foxx make a good team, but that’s entirely on them having charisma and has nothing to do with their characters or scenes that they have. You want to see them stuck together working this problem out, but the movie keeps cutting to Maggie Gyllenhaal as the head of the Secret Service and other officials whose screen time should’ve been kept to about the same amount as the chiefs of staff in UNDER SIEGE. You get more information than you need about what’s going on on the outside and as a result you don’t really get as much of a feel as you should for where the should-be-leads are in the White House or what they need to do or if they’re in that much danger.
The movie’s most grievous fuckup: it takes 45 god damn minutes to get to the part where the bad guys attack. I mean, you see them getting into place and everything, following the DIE HARD formula, but there’s nothing clever or compelling about the way they do it, nothing particularly suspenseful, there is nothing gained by dragging it the fuck out. Meanwhile we learn about all the good guy characters and what they’re supposed to be about but gain no more understanding or connection with them than we would in a standard action movie where the action part starts in the opening scene, then there’s 10-15 minutes of setup, then more action. So by the time there is finally an explosion I felt like packing it up, and any potential energy or momentum was already drained out of the fuckin thing.
The main villain is James Woods, but he’s not in fun James Woods asshole mode. They’re going for more of an Ed-Harris-in-THE-ROCK thing where it seems like he sees himself as a patriot doing what’s best for his country, but he doesn’t play it with the gravity of Harris (and doesn’t have that Hans Zimmer score to help him). So it’s the worst of both worlds – not a great character, not a great Woods performance.
One thing Emmerich does have in common with Michael Bay: a terrible sense of humor and reckless disregard for tone. So just like in INDEPENDENCE DAY he’ll slap some groaner right in the middle of a supposedly dramatic scene. There’s the “funny” White House tour guide with the running gag that he gets mad that they’re breaking things and says his tour spiel to guys pointing machine guns at him. Ha ha. Also, the “funny” bumbling white supremacist redneck guy with the cartoonish Hulk Hogan mustache. I like laughs in my action movies but they gotta be laughs, not “laughs,” and also you gotta know where to put them and have them come out naturally. Emmerich’s style is like putting frosting on a pizza. Hey, it’s pizza! It’s frosting! That’s the stuff I like!
There’s kind of a funny-stupid gimmick to explain what’s supposed to be a colorful super-team of terrorists, but most of them are just treated as jokes. You get a guy who’s “the king of the hackers” who spends most of the movie waving his arms around listening to classical music while computer screens do things that we, as citizens of the year 2013, are pretty sure computer screens don’t do. I could see enjoying that character as some kind of a throwback to a cliche of the ’90s maybe. The only villain you can take seriously is the second in command played by Jason Clarke, who was so great in ZERO DARK THIRTY and several other movies the last year or two that I promise you he’ll be playing a comic book character within 3 years. You gotta enjoy him here too but there isn’t much to the character. Compare him to Busey in UNDER SIEGE or Everett McGill in UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY and you’ll understand how much more can be done with this exact type of character in this exact type of movie.
If I had to name the most legitimately cool parts in the movie, you better give me some time because I can’t think of anything off the top of my head. The best you get here is some funny absurd moments like the president hanging out of the side of a limo firing a rocket launcher, so I appreciate that. But there’s not enough of it even to sustain a shorter movie (this one’s 131 minutes, a respectable length for a better movie).
The most ridiculous aspect, and therefore my favorite, is that instead of having his wife there like John McClane he has his daughter (Joey King), and because of her interest in the White House she delivers some of the exposition, like bringing up the existence of a secret security room. Also she is a Youtuber who records the attackers with her phone and posts them so they can be identified ( not that it helps anybody). Then the media stupidly outs her by name and Twitter photo, almost getting her killed. But don’t worry, it’s PG-13. She’s safe and there will be no smoking or boobs and only one presidential “fuck you.”
By the way, I could not stop thinking about how much this little girl looks like Rachel Weisz, and that she should play the young version of her sometime. Turns out she played the young Marion Cotillard in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, and I continue to get those two mixed up somehow, so it almost counts. I think she looks more like Weisz though.
Let’s say you’re gonna take 45 excruciating minutes to set up the characters in this movie, and you want to show that he’s blown it as a father and his daughter is mad at him. Would you try to come up with a new way to illustrate that? Or would you say that he forgot to go to her talent show? Well, they went with talent show. I just don’t know how they do that. They’re getting paid alot of money to write this shit, wouldn’t it be worth taking the afternoon to try to come up with a new one? Not recital/talent show, not baseball game, not birthday. Just, a different one. The credited writer, James Vanderbilt, is the guy that wrote ZODIAC, so I feel like maybe he could come up with one.
You gotta wonder if it was a corporate decision. “No, we focus grouped this. America is not ready for a new one. Gotta be recital or talent show. He was supposed to go but he forgot which day it was. The girl was real sad.”
To be fair though, this talent show bullshit is setup for the funniest stupid bit in the movie, easily the highlight. So I take it back, it was worth it.
While alot of these types of movies are a little bit right wing, this one has some pretty silly lefty stuff, beginning with the president’s plan to remove the military from the middle east and using the money to pay for education and food and shit there. It’s a nice sentiment but I’m not sure it’s a magic recipe for peace either.
There are a couple funny digs at that popular non-partisan target The Media. I like how they report on suddenly finding out the terrorists look white. And there’s a blowhard tv pundit guy (I think he’s supposed to be a Bill O’Reilly or Rush Limbaugh type) who cries like a sissy the whole time. But they apparently felt guilty making fun of this one-dimensional cartoon so they make him man up at the end. Oddly disappointing.
In other news, congratulations to Lance Reddick for graduating from uncredited soldier on Manhattan Bridge in Emmerich’s GODZILLA 15 years ago to major character General Caulfield in this one.
It would be a waste of time to try to list all the things that are not believable in a movie like this, but I especially got a kick out of how casual everybody was right after a terrorist attack blew up the White House and Air Force One and a bunch of other shit. Instead of running in to find the president they all just stand around on the lawn talking, taking Tatum’s word for it that the president “didn’t make it,” then letting him trick them into revealing a secret conspiracy. They let him leave on a not-in-a-hurry chopper with the injured president, and he immediately decides his daughter can come too, without even asking permission. I feel like there should be more security in place two minutes after the worst attack in American history. In my opinion. And they should probly get a doctor to look at the president’s wounds? Shouldn’t that be policy? Worth considering, in my opinion.
Admittedly, this is the only DIE HARD type movie where at the end they find out that also world peace happened while this was all going on. So that’s pretty cool. I’ll give it that. That didn’t happen in SUDDEN DEATH.
If you’re looking for action, there is some I think. Of course Emmerich’s main interest is in special effects explosions of various presidential things, so he’s better at that than the fighting. I’m giving it a pretty high ACR rating because there’s not alot of problems with shaky cameras or quick cuts, and only one of the fights is shot close up. I think it being a PG-13 movie caused a lack of bullet hits that makes some of it confusing, but for the most part it’s pretty easy to make out. Please don’t mistake this for me saying it’s good action, though. I couldn’t point you to a particularly good scene or move, and didn’t feel like there was any build to the movie of any kind. It’s just… shots are fired. The car does a donut. A plane blows up. Different parts of the White House blow up at different times.
If you see only one UNDER SIEGE IN THE WHITE HOUSE movie this year, see… ah, who gives a shit? Nobody will remember either of these movies a year from now. Of the two I think I preferred OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN. I forget why though. Something about Melissa Leo?
VERN has a new action-horror novel out called WORM ON A HOOK! He has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the film criticism books Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal and Yippee Ki-Yay Moviegoer!: Writings on Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics as well as the crime novel Niketown.