March 27, 2013 -- Terrorists take over the White House in this big, dumb action movie which resembles an expensive rip-off of the Die Hard series. In place of Bruce Willis, we have Gerard Butler (“RocknRolla”) playing the part of the Army of One, wiping out an army of terrorists all by himself.
The story starts months before the White House takeover, with Mike Banning (Butler) heading up the Secret Service detail protecting the president. An accident on a snow-slickened bridge leads to the death of the First Lady (played by Ashley Judd of “Dolphin Tale”). Banning is reassigned after the tragedy, even though he was not at fault, exactly.
We skip ahead several months and find Banning working at the Treasury Department. He sees the attack on the White House and runs over there, ending up as the lone federal employee in the White House who has the run of the place and is able to report what is going on. The attack on the White House is elaborate and well-planned. It relies on what amounts to a suicide attack, since most of those involved in the attack will die. The attack involves both an aerial assault as well as a ground assault. If the assault takes longer than 15 minutes it will fail, because the military will have arrived by then to save the day.
The attack succeeds and the White House is occupied. The President (played by Aaron Eckhart of “Battle Los Angeles”) is taken hostage, as well as his top staff, including Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillan (Melissa Leo of “The Fighter”). The terrorists, led by the mysterious Kang (Rick Yune of “Die Another Day”) demand a pull back of U.S. troops from the demilitarized zone in Korea and withdrawal of the U.S. Seventh Fleet. The acting President, Speaker of the House Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman of the most recent “Dark Knight” movies) has to decide what to do about this crisis.
Meanwhile Banning is picking off bad guys left and right. He warns Trumbull and not to try to land troops on the roof of the White House because the terrorists have managed to set up an advanced weapons system there in a matter of minutes. Ignoring the warning, a group of attack helicopters carrying troops is shot down. Banning is still on his own. Even when the front door to the White House is wide open and undefended after almost all the terrorists have been killed, nobody comes in to help Banning. Its just ridiculous.
Director Antoine Fuqua makes attempts to humanize these characters, but the plot is just too thin. Morgan Freeman, as usual, does the best job of coming up with the most rounded-out character. Melissa Leo shows some real grit and courage in the face of certain death. Child actor Finley Jacobsen is good as the president's son, Connor. Veteran actress Angela Bassett, who plays Secret Service Director Lynn Jacobs tries mightily to breathe life into her character, but there just isn't enough to work with. Most of the other main characters in the film, however, including Banning, Kang and the President, are very one-dimensional and uninteresting. Robert Forster has the dismal job of playing General Edward Clegg, who has very bad judgement.
These two-dimensional characters would not be an insurmountable problem if the plot was smarter, but it is pretty dumb. How dumb is it to have a computer code that can only be controlled from the White House which can be used to destroy the United States? On top of this, a terrorist is able to hack one-third of this America-destruct code using only a laptop computer. What idiot dreamed up that plan? I can just see a White House janitor accidentally tripping over his broom and blowing up the United States by falling on the destruct button.
There are interesting historical precedents in the film with women playing both Secretary of Defense and director of the Secret Service, two jobs that had never been held by women. However, reality caught up with the script on Wednesday, less than a week after the film opened, when Julia Pierson, a veteran of the service, was sworn in as the new head of the real U.S. Secret Service. Secretary of Defense? That's another matter. It will be a while before a woman gets that job.
This film has some impressive special effects, including knocking off the top of the Washington Monument, blowing up one of the wings of the White House and other major destructive scenes. However, it lacks the interesting characters and humor that has become a hallmark of this Die Hard Genre. This film rates a C.
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