Video Verdict: ‘White House Down,’ ‘Grown Ups 2,’ ‘Under the Dome’

Channing Tatum, left, and Jamie Foxx star in the action-adventure film “White House Down.”

Channing Tatum, left, and Jamie Foxx star in the action-adventure film “White House Down.”

This week’s home video releases include the first season of a high-profile television drama, a comedy sequel from Adam Sandler and one of the most entertaining action films of the summer.

White House Down

3 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action and violence including intense gunfire and explosions, some language and a brief sexual image
Sony
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

The White House has been an appealing target in 2013… at least in Hollywood. Earlier this year, Gerard Butler defended the U.S. Capitol in “Olympus Has Fallen.” In “White House Down,” it’s Channing Tatum’s turn.

The movie, directed by Roland Emmerich (“The Day After Tomorrow,” “Independence Day”), focuses on John Cale (Tatum), a U.S. Capitol Police officer who hopes to join the Secret Service. In part, this is because it’s a better job, but it’s also because his daughter, Emily (Joey King), is a fan of all things presidential.

Because of Emily’s fascination with politics, John brings her to the White House during his Secret Service interview, and that action changes both of their lives. A terrorist detonates a bomb at the Capitol and the chaos leaves Emily and John separated. Before anyone can figure out what’s going on, mercenaries launch a full-frontal assault on the building. John manages to escape and begins a search for Emily, but the situation quickly deteriorates and the mercenaries gain control of the building and capture U.S. President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx). Operating alone and covertly, John decides to rescue both Sawyer and his daughter.

The plotting is ridiculous, just as it was in “Olympus Has Fallen,” but Emmerich does a far better job with the over-the-top material. He recognizes and embraces the silliness of the story, turning “White House Down” into a bracing action film that is often funny and always entertaining.

Tatum, of course, has a great deal to do with this. His natural charisma and impressive physique allow him to be witty and heroic simultaneously, and he is particularly good when playing across from Foxx. The latter actor paints a solid presidential portrait. In fact, Foxx makes the president the sort of person Americans hope for when they cast their votes. He is courageous and friendly, and he maintains his composure and wit while under stress.

“White House Down” also scores points for a couple solid twists. Both are telegraphed to varying degrees, but that doesn’t reduce their impact. Popcorn flicks don’t get much better.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include several making-of features.

Grown Ups 2

2 stars
Rated PG-13 for crude and suggestive content, language and some male rear nudity
Sony
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

For anyone who thought the storytelling in “Grown Ups” was haphazard and shallow, its filmmakers have proven that things can get worse.

The original movie was little more than an excuse to pack five high-profile comedians into a single picture, and “Grown Ups 2” is more of the same. Only this time the plot is even thinner.

It has been three years since the guys in the original movie reunited for their high school basketball coach’s funeral, and Lenny (Adam Sandler) enjoyed the experience so much that he decided to leave his job as a Hollywood talent scout and return to his Connecticut hometown. This allows him plenty of time to hang out with his buddies: Eric (Kevin James), Kurt (Chris Rock) and Marcus (David Spade). Rob Schneider, who had a major role in the original film, is missing in action.

Although Schneider’s exclusion dims the star power, it’s difficult to believe that he would have significantly improved the film. The “Grown Ups 2” script – co-written by Sandler, Fred Wolf and Tim Herlihy – has significant problems, the most important of which is a free-form plot with only a minimal story arc.

In the original “Grown Ups” there was some joy in watching so many high-profile comedians interact, but the novelty has worn off. Therefore, Sandler and company needed to bring a sense of coherence and storytelling to the project. They do not.

The movie veers from gags about a wild deer invading Lenny’s house to Marcus’ struggles to bond with a son he didn’t know he fathered. The movie also contains substantial threads about Eric’s inability to cut ties with his mother and about loud-mouthed, threatening frat boys.

Although some of the bits are funny, they tie together so poorly that the movie plays like an unrelated batch of comedy sketches that were assembled in random order. Director Dennis Dugan – a long-time Sandler collaborator – has been inconsistent throughout his career, but it’s difficult to blame the “Grown Ups 2” problems on him. In fact, Dugan does a good job milking the funny from his scenes.

The fact that Sandler, James, Rock and Spade have an easygoing chemistry makes the project more palatable than it might have been, but it doesn’t change the fact that the story goes nowhere.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes.

“Under the Dome”

3 stars
Unrated
Paramount
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Investing in a new television show is risky because networks are quick to pull the plug if viewership drops below expectations. That said, the best television is often superior to movies because of the character and plot development that the long-form medium allows. Of the 2013 newbies, “Under the Dome” ranks among the best, and anyone who wants to explore the show on video can do so knowing that at least a second season is assured. In July, CBS renewed the series, and it is set to return in the summer of 2014.

The program is based on Stephen King’s like-titled novel, and it focuses on the denizens of a small, Maine town who suddenly find themselves trapped beneath a massive, invisible dome. As the citizens realize that they are both unable to leave and that they may soon face a resource shortage, panic spreads, and the town falls under a sort of marshal law enforced by mayor James “Big Jim” Rennie (Dean Norris) and rookie sheriff Linda Esquivel (Natalie Martinez). Other key characters include journalist Julia Shumway (Rachelle Lefevre), military veteran Dale “Barbie” Barbara (Mike Vogel) and a group of youth who have a strange-yet-unexplained connection to the dome.

The first season moves briskly, and the plotting gets increasingly interesting as the characters grow accustomed to their new reality and learn more about the dome. Brian K. Vaughan developed the show, and he and King present a pessimistic worldview. One would hope the citizens of a small town would band together in times of crisis, but things quickly unravel under the dome, and varying degrees of corruption become the norm. That, of course, opens opportunities for dramatic storytelling, and show producers take advantage of them.

“Under the Dome” has minor problems, most stemming from the fact Esquivel is obviously ill-equipped to work in law enforcement. At times, the character’s ineptitude is difficult to believe, and that calls broader plot points into question. As annoying as this is, the show’s strong points overshadow it, leaving viewers with a complex and compelling narrative that says a lot about human nature and the world that we live in.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include multiple making-of shorts focused on topics that range from adapting the book to screen to the shooting of the pilot.

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Lovelace”: Amanda Seyfried plays porn star Linda Lovelace in a biographical drama that considers her unexpected rise to fame and her troubled relationship with husband Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard). Directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman.

“As I Lay Dying”: James Franco directs and stars in this movie adaptation of William Faulkner’s much-loved 1930 novel. The plotting centers on family members who must battle intense physical and mental obstacles while transporting their deceased mother to burial. Tim Blake Nelson and Danny McBride also star.

“Parkland”: Drama focused on the events immediately following the shooting of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Zac Efron, Marcia Gay Harden, Billy Bob Thornton, Jacki Weaver and Paul Giamatti star. Written and directed by Peter Landesman.

“The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey” – Extended Edition: Director Peter Jackson made a practice of delivering multiple editions of his “Lord of the Rings” films. It looks like he will do the same with his three-movie adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.” Although the movie was released on home video earlier this year, this version includes 13 minutes of additional footage.

“Mad Men” – Season Six: The seventh season will be the last for this immensely popular AMC drama about advertising agency employees working in New York City during the 1960s. Anyone looking to prepare for the finale or revisit the most recent season can catch all the action with this set.

“Clear History”: HBO film starring Larry David as a businessman who attempts to remake his life after squandering an opportunity to make millions. Jon Hamm, Kate Hudson, Michael Keaton, Danny McBride, Bill Hader and Eva Mendes also star. Directed by Greg Mottola.

“Twilight” Forever – The Complete Saga: To celebrate the fifth anniversary of the original “Twilight” movie, Summit Entertainment is rolling out a box set that includes all five films in the franchise, plus more than two hours of fresh bonus content.

“Naked City” – The Complete Series: All four-seasons of the Emmy Award-winning police drama that ran in the late 1950s and early ’60s on ABC. Paul Burke, Horace McMahon, Harry Bellaver, James Fanciscus and John McIntire star.

“Girl Most Likely”: Kristen Wiig stars as a once-promising playwright who is forced to move back in with her family when her career and love life fall apart. Annette Bening, Matt Dillon and Darren Criss also star. Directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini.

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

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2 Comments

Filed under Video Verdict

2 responses to “Video Verdict: ‘White House Down,’ ‘Grown Ups 2,’ ‘Under the Dome’

  1. smilingldsgirl

    Cool reviews. I haven’t seen any of the movies or TV you reviewed but I think Grown Ups is everyting that is wrong with the movie industry . It is made to make money not to be funny or have anything new or interesting. So sad.
    Should homeland security be concerned that 2 of Emmerich’s movies feature the white house being attacked 😉

    Like

  2. The thing about “Grown Ups” and “Grown Ups 2” that is really disappointing is that these guys can be funny. Sadly, it seems like they want viewers to throw down their money for that reason alone. No script, no problem.

    As for Emmerich, I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist, so I suspect homeland security should let him be. 😉 He does, however, seem to take real delight in making famous places explode.

    Like

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