Film Review Shorties: White House Down / Riddick (2013)

White House DownWhite House Down (2013)

I was drawn to White House Down by its dreadful poster which seemed to depict the president of the United States (or ‘POTUS’ as I understand he’s known in the trade) played by Jamie Foxx holding hands with a vaguely military-looking fellow, Channing Tatum. That seemed quite amusing, and I also liked the suggestion by my other half that this was the sequel to Black Hawk Down; sadly it isn’t but it’s quite fun if you maintain the pretence. This is another film about American incompetence and blowing up the White House. The other one was Olympus Has Fallen earlier this year which was also entertaining. This is almost a remake of that film with various features slotted into the painting by numbers screenplay. I’m not certain I can tell the films apart even now.
Most of the set up is just silly, but who cares because Roland Emmerich is going to blow up the White House again. “Blah blah I want to be a Secret Service agent and my daughter hates me but loves politics and the president” – Tatum’s backstory. “I am a black president who wants to pull out of the Middle East and upset all those big money military companies” – Foxx’ backstory. So far, so yawn. Tatum has quite an engaging relationship with his daughter but it’s all bland sentiment, as is Foxx’ remarkably one dimensional president. Thankfully we don’t have to wait long before the “plot” kicks off with a man obviously masquerading as a cleaner detonating a bomb in the senate building (I think- they all look the same to me and it doesn’t really matter). From there the White House is quickly stormed by a gang of well organised military types and complete morons. Very soon father is separated from spunky daughter, lots of people are dead (it is incredible how incompetent films consider all American police, military and clandestine agencies to be) and the president is being betrayed by trusted advisers (hurray for James Woods). Outside the White House Maggie Gyllenhall is busy looking pensive and worrying about what to do.
Skip the story and character stuff and you do get a reasonable amount of explosions and gunfire. There’s a fun chase round the estate in bulletproof cars and some silly scrapes and stunts. It is so far beyond predictable that you can likely tell the story just from the poster. Foxx and Tatum are best friends forever by the end. That does skip the “highlight” scenes of the film though which are just sick – I’m not sure how many times the eleven year old girl is slapped, threatened or has a gun screwed into her head to make her cry. It’s not an appealing sight and is frankly rather troubling. But it’s okay – by waving a flag on the lawn she makes fighter pilots abandon their mission to bomb the White House and everyone is okay (except for those shot at point blank range with a spinning gun thing).
Fairly dreadful, but entertaining enough on the way to the inevitable conclusion. Will Emmerich ever make something as fun as Independence Day again? Doubtful.

RiddickRiddick

Ah Vin Diesel, a man moulded from a clingfilm-clad lump of lard. He is distressingly pasty and shapeless, and that’s from someone whose idea of tanning is a sprinkling of freckles. I fear his finest work was the voice of the giant in Iron Giant, although Pitch Black was an excellent little sci-fi thriller. It’s that specific legacy that made me want to see Riddick, even though I’d watched the catastrophe that is Chronicles of Riddick which undid any good work done by the first film. Riddick is a pleasing anti-hero – a psychopath cannibal with eyes that shine in the dark. They played it well in the original, made him tedious in the second and I really thought this could be a return to form. Unfortunately it’s mainly a vanity piece for Diesel.
The first twenty minutes, possibly more (it could easily be half the film) are spent following a badly injured Riddick limp about punching alien dogs in the face. We get a voice over explanation of how he fell out with the Necromongers (y’know, like fishmongers) and got dumped on another crappy planet. He gets better, befriends a zebra-mutt puppy, poisons it and him until they’re both pretty tough and he can amble about punching other aliens in the head, or with his hilarious bone-axe. He does have a quite crappy time of it. He’s not really strong enough to hold that much film on his own though; I was quite enchanted by the puppy-beast – it’s like One Boy and His Dog. They go off and find shelter from a coming storm which will inconveniently wake up hordes of two-legged scorpion things – tsk. Thankfully it’s a mercenary station, a bit like a cabin on top of a mountain, but for mercenaries: this is not really explained, but it seems that mercs are like the Red Cross – somewhere on that planet there was also a big dog with a barrel of rum round its neck. He calls for help so some mercs will come to nab his bounty and then he can nick their ship. Perfectly good plan, which is complicated by the first crew, who are a pack of rapist arseholes (with a religious kid, for luck, and presumably other uses when their imprisoned rape victims die) and the arrival of a second, much better put together crew with Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica. There’s a lot of bickering between the merc crews which is fairly enjoyable until everyone starts threatening to rape Starbuck. She’s a tough lesbian so she can take it, and she gives some good hard punches of her own. Honestly, this is exactly how the film progresses.
There’s a bunch of betrayal, shooting at shadows and the killing of Riddick’s pup (sadly inevitable) followed by his capture. That’s mainly an opportunity for Riddick to also threaten to rape Starbuck (though to his vague credit he does say that she’ll be begging him to be “balls deep” in her – by the way, her character is called ‘Doll’). Finally the storm arrives and a new round of betrayal and punching aliens can begin. After a while it ends and the survivors are all pals and Starbuck does indeed ask nicely for Riddick to be balls deep in her, after rescuing him from his endless punching of aliens. Isn’t that nice?
It’s a perplexing film that completely fails to recapture the delights of Pitch Black. It’s more fun when he’s on his own because at least then the misogyny wasn’t the main feature of conversation for everyone. The aliens are quite satisfying, if rather derivative. I liked the alien zebra-dogs a lot. More of Riddick and His Dog would have been nice. They utterly squander his character and murky charm by the end of the film, but by then you’ll have lost track of who’s dead and who still wants to rape Starbuck. Very odd, entirely missable. I’m hoping it hasn’t retrospectively ruined Pitch Black.

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