Roland Emmerich likes the Air Jordans scene in White House Down. As you may have heard, Emmerich and the leading men of his movie, Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum, gave moviegoers in New York and London a sneak peek of about eight minutes of footage from their Washington-under-siege movie on Tuesday, and, at the risk of sounding like Chance the Gardener, I had the unexpected opportunity of watching the director watch his handiwork from the audience.
Emmerich and Foxx appeared before a hyped-up crowd at a Regal cineplex in Manhattan's Union Square and were joined via satellite by Tatum, who was at a screening in London. Audiences in both locations were first shown the trailer for White House Down (posted below), then Good Morning America's Sam Champion asked a lot of how-did-it-feel-type questions of the trio and their respective roles.
Tatum plays John Cale — screenwriter James Vanderbilt must be a Velvet Underground fan — a cop who is on a tour of the White House with his daughter when it is attacked during a coup attempt, and President James Sawyer, portrayed by Foxx, is taken hostage. The two men team up to battle the paramilitary forces — homegrown, based on Emmerich's comments — that are attempting to take control of the country and, on a more human scale, to rescue Cale's daughter.
After Emmerich admitted to some reservations about showing an extended look at his work-in-progress, the lights went down a second time and the crowd was treated to approximately eight minutes of footage that better established Tatum and Foxx's characters. Prior to the White House tour, Cale is shown apologizing to his daughter for not being a better dad and lifting her spirits by telling her about the White House tour they're going to take right after his interview for a plum Secret Service gig. That interview which is conducted by a tough-talking Maggie Gyllenhaal, goes terribly, and, based on the footage shown, implausibly. Gyllenhaal is shown quoting evaluations by Cale's law-enforcement superiors and there are enough negative ones that, given that the job involves protecting the president, it's unlikely the interview would have even been scheduled.
But things picked up considerably from there. Just before all hell broke loose, a White House tour guide refers to the part of the White House "that got blown up in Independence Day," which the crowd loved. That was followed by extended footage of another national monument, the Capitol Building being destroyed in spectacular fashion. (Trust me, it's more memorable than the short version you see in the trailer.)
By then, Emmerich had left his seat next to Foxx at the front of the theater and plopped down on the floor in the middle of the theater next to yours truly — there were no seats to be had at this point — presumably to watch the footage from the crowd's perspective.
As the Capitol Building imploded, I watched Emmerich out of the corner of my eye to see if the German filmmaker was looking impressed with himself or particularly gleeful at the cinematic destruction of an iconic American image. He wasn't. He watched the footage intently but without any evident emotion.
The scene that got an obvious rise out of Emmerich was one in which, after Cale and Sawyer make their way to the president's living quarters, the Commander-in-Chief breaks out a pair of sweet Air Jordans. The director laughed out loud at that scene, and also appeared to enjoy another bit of comic relief later in the picture where Foxx kicks a terrorist who's grabbing at his feet and says, "Get your hands off my Jordans!" (Foxx told the crowd that he was not playing a fictional version of Barack Obama, but that he did do "Obama-type things" in the movie, and the Jordans certainly seemed to reference our actual president's love of basketball.)
Eight minutes of footage does not a movie make, but if Emmerich can maintain the level of humor, action and drama that his sneak peek demonstrated, White House Down could potentially dwarf the $30.5 million opening weekend that Olympus Has Fallen notched and become another Independence Day-sized hit for Emmerich. At the very least, it will earn him the distinction of the filmmaker who blew up by blowing up the White House — twice.
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