' Cinema Romantico: Giving Thanks For...Donnie The Tour Guide

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Giving Thanks For...Donnie The Tour Guide

Channing Tatum’s wannabe secret service agent John Cale has taken his precocious and politically active daughter on a tour of the White House. And, of course, Tatum is about five minutes away from making like John McClane and saving the President and America and the world and the universe, etc. But right now he and Donnie the Tour Guide (Nicolas Wright) are reveling in the majesty of an oil painting depicting the White House burning down during the War of 1812. Donnie the Tour Guide gives a brief overview of this calamity to the history–challenged Cale, and I smiled.


I smiled because this is vintage Roland Emmerich, the man who stacks his disaster-oriented films with so many set-ups in the first half-hour that if you so much as see, say, someone grinding coffee beans, you immediately expect someone else to get their fingers ground up like so many French roast beans deep in the heart of the second act. To be sure, these set-ups are predictable, but that predictability so is much of their old world charm, akin to “Where’s Waldo?” The set-ups are Emmerich-ized Waldos and you are constantly on the lookout for them – there’s a set-up! There’s a set-up! There’s a set-up! There’s a set-up! And each eventual payoff is met not with a groan, but with good cheer. And as Donnie and Cale admire the painting, you nod your head and laugh and think: “Yup. 1600 Pennsylvania Ave is going up in flames in about two hours.” (Spoiler Alert!)

That is but one set-up in a film, "White House Down", filled with many, which brings me directly back to Donnie the Tour Guide. In the midst of a paramilitary takeover of the White House, of dastardly turncoats, a noble POTUS, machine guns and rocket launchers, the US Capitol rotunda exploding, and, of course, the invincible Channing Tatum in a blood-splattered undershirt, Emmerich still takes the time to succinctly craft an entire side-story revolving Donnie, a polite history buff (and likely Antiques Roadshow devotee) metamorphosing into a freedom fighter in khakis.

Once he and the tourists in his charge have been taken hostage, Donnie proves himself so loyal not simply to his job but to the many precious decorative artifacts contained within the White House. So loyal, in fact, that he kindly asks the whacko racist terrorist, played by Matthew McConaughey’s (eventually ex) sexist friend in “Dallas Buyers Club”, to please be gentle. Naturally the whacko racist terrorist makes known his disapproval and Donnie skulks away. FADE OUT.

FADE IN. Later in the film. Cale is busy dispatching villains when he suddenly finds himself on the wrong end of the whacko racist terrorist. This is the end! Wait. It can’t be the end! It isn’t the end. As the whacko racist terrorist looms over Cale, we notice Donnie nimbly appear on the edge of the frame, assume a frantically rancorous expression and then……thwack! Knock out the whacko racist terrorist with a rather handsome piece of time-telling craftsmanship. Momentarily making like Schwarzenegger by way of Brian Krakow he offers: “German mantle clock. Empire style.”

The payoff, of course, is that Donnie the Tour Guide has used one of the very heirlooms of the executive mansion he was chastising the whacko racist terrorist for heedlessly abusing to provide comeuppance. Of course, this also means that Donnie has implemented that which he was risking life and limb to protect, that which he considered sacred, as an instrument of warfare. No doubt this tears him up, but his nobility must be recognized, destroying something he loves to the save the house where he works.

And that brings me to the film's single greatest plot hole. No, no, no, no, no, I'm not talking about.....whatever it is plot-hole-picker-outers pick out in the pub after the movie. Surely Donnie The Tour Guide, vast reservoir of White House trivia, knows that Dolley Madison directed the saving of Gilbert Stuart's noted portrait of George Washington when her husband, the fourth President's, residence was burned down by the British during the War of 1812? Surely he knows it still hangs in the White House East Room?

Couldn't there have been a scene where we see Donnie ditching his shotgun and saving the Stuart?

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