There’s a scene about halfway through Antoine Fuqua’s White House under attack film where Gerard Butler’s ex Secret Service man kills a terrorist by smashing his head in with a bust of Abraham Lincoln.
In the Oval Office.
Which is about as subtle as this film gets.
Thankfully, this sort of unintentional hilarity combined with everyone in the cast playing it very very seriously indeed works in the films favour, giving you an action film that’s not afraid to be just that; an action film that embraces all the clichés and ends up as an enjoyable if utterly preposterous Die Hard clone. In fact, the film follows the Die Hard template so closely, some scenes are stolen wholesale from the classic actioner that you can’t help but feel it was entirely intentional.
After a band of North Koreans take over the White House and hold the President (Aaron Eckhart) and his entire staff hostage it’s up to Mike Banning (Butler), a former agent demoted after a tragedy involving the presidents wife, to save the day after pretty much every single Secret Service agent is killed in the opening attack. It doesn’t take too long for the film to set out its stall, and said opening attack is thrillingly bonkers, involving more gunfire and explosions in one ten minute scene than most films have in their entirety. And just when you think it can’t get any more ridiculous, they take the top off the Washington Monument.
In fact this sequence and the film as a whole is pleasingly violent and really earns it’s 15 certificate; it’s rather refreshing to have a film these days that isn’t watered down for the 12A rating and makes full use of the freedom that gives them. It provides the film with a real visceral impact that the recent slew of edited down films haven’t had (Taken 2 for example). It harks back to the 90’s era of action cinema, your Face/Off’s, your Con Air’s, your the Rock’s. In fact, think of any Nicolas Cage action film from the 90’s and plonk Gerard Butler in there. It’s pretty much that; the high concept action film with a ludicrous body count, wanton destruction and terrible one liners, and with its tongue firmly in its cheek. You hope. How else can you explain the at least half a dozen shots of the bullet torn Stars and Stripes?
As all the characters in the film are basically archetypes you can’t really fault the performances; Butler is decent if slightly wooden but all he has to do is provide a formidable action presence which, to be fair, he does with ease. Aaron Eckhart gets the damsel in distress role, and delivers some of the most jingoistic Presidential speeches this side of Bull Pullman in Independence Day. And Morgan Freeman spends the whole film seated, giving orders from behind a desk as the acting President. The terrorists do have a motivation…I think. But it doesn’t really matter. They’re just cannon fodder.
It’s the type of film you’re either on board with or not. If you can deal with the sight of a prisoner defiantly reciting the Pledge of Allegiance whilst in the face of insurmountable odds, it’s a lot of violent fun. It’s not subtle, and it’s certainly not a classic of the genre, but for sheer stupid fun it’s hard not to recommend. It’s Die Hard + Air Force One x the Call of Duty games.
And it has the line of the year thus far in it too.
Review by Jonathan Cardwell.
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