This week’s new films reviewed

The White House is in peril again in Roland Emmerich’s mindlessly entertaining popcorn fodder picture.

WHITE HOUSE DOWN (12A)

Channing Tatum, left, and Jamie Foxx star in Columbia Pictures' "White House Down."

Channing Tatum, left, and Jamie Foxx star in Columbia Pictures' "White House Down."

Not content with destroying the White House in his 1996 sci-fi blockbuster Independence Day, director Roland Emmerich reduces the Washington landmark to rubble again in this preposterous, high-octane action thriller.

White House Down is an all guns blazing tale of gung-ho heroism and flag-waving patriotism which unfolds during a terrorist attack on the US President’s iconic seat of power.

The similarities to Olympus Has Fallen are inescapable.

On the surface, the two films follow the same narrative trajectory, pitting a single man against hordes of gun-toting adversaries on a suicide mission to rescue the stricken President from diabolical captors.

Both films cower in the shadow of nuclear Armageddon but White House Down boasts more creativity with its protracted action sequences, including a hysterically overblown car chase around the grounds of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue replete with the President leaning out of a moving vehicle armed with a rocket launcher.

John Cale (Channing Tatum) is an ex-soldier, who is assigned to protect Speaker Of The House, Eli Raphelson (Richard Jenkins), when he would much rather be part of the Secret Service detail protecting President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx).

An interview for promotion conducted by Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal) goes badly and John licks his wounds by joining his daughter Emily (Joey King) on a guided tour of the White House just as a heavily armed paramilitary group led by Emil Stenz (Jason Clarke) prepares to take control of the building.

A devastating blast beneath the rotunda of the US Capitol signals the start of the hostilities and Stenz and his men sweep through rooms and corridors, shooting guards until the perimeter and hostages are secure.

With the President’s life in the balance, Vice President Alvin Hammond (Michael Murphy) takes to the skies with his team aboard Air Force One.

On the ground, Carol and her team including General Caulfield (Lance Reddick) discuss a military solution to the crisis.

Meanwhile, John does what any father would to protect his tearful daughter: he grabs a gun and single-handedly takes on the bad guys.

What White House Down lacks in subtlety, it compensates with knucklehead, adrenaline-pumping thrills and spills.

Screenwriter James Vanderbilt provides director Emmerich with the full array of cliches and contrivances, including a cherubic child in peril and at least one traitor in the upper echelons of power.

Channing dodges bullets and certain death at every explosive turn while Foxx manages to retain his presidential cool in the face of extreme provocation. They share winning screen chemistry.

As long as you disengage your brain from any thought processes for two hours, Emmerich’s picture is entertaining popcorn fodder that is forgotten well before the end credits finish scrolling.

RATING: 5/10

RUSH (15)

To truly excel in a chosen field, you need to be challenged, pushed to the limit of human endurance to find previously untapped reserves of strength and courage.

For this reason, sport is littered with bitter rivalries between incredible champions, whose desire to win – regardless of the consequences and the physical risks – inspires awe and devotion.

Take, for example, the battle of athleticism and skill between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe which electrified tennis courts, replicated in the women’s game by the showdowns between Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert.

Some of the fiercest rivalry, though, has been contested on Formula 1 racetracks.

Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost famously clashed in and out of their supercharged machines, compelling the French driver to declare that “Senna wanted to destroy me”.

During the 1970s, rubber burned and tempers frayed between two very different drivers: charismatic ladies’ man James Hunt and incredibly ambitious Austrian speed fiend Niki Lauda.

Their daredevil duels reached a horrifying crescendo at the 1976 German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring when Lauda’s Ferrari burst into flames, trapping him in the inferno.

An incredible six weeks later, Lauda emerged from hospital with extensive scarring, determined to prevent Hunt from claiming the chequered flag at Monza.

This incredible story of courage and resilience is dramatised in Rush, Ron Howard’s superb biopic that charts the rivalry between Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) from their early days through to the glamour of the Formula 1 circus.

The two men have very different approaches to their craft.

Hunt relishes the trappings of fame, proposing to his first wife, model Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde), on the spur of the moment then allowing excesses to poison their relationship and drive her into the arms of Richard Burton.

Lauda is devoted to testing, working his mechanics into the ground to shave a few hundreds off lap times at the expense of personal relationships.

So when he falls madly in love with Marlene Knaus (Alexandra Maria Lara), he fears the repercussions.

“Happiness is the enemy, it weakens you. Suddenly you have something to lose,” he declares.

Directed with brio and turbo-charged by stirring performances from Hemsworth and Bruhl, Rush is a riveting evocation of an bygone era.

An uplifting story of admiration and friendship purrs beneath the bonnet of Howard’s direction offering plenty of high-speed thrills for petrol heads.

The screenwriters select the choicest cuts of the facts for the big screen, including horrific scenes at the hospital where a badly burned Lauda drifts in and out of consciousness but still musters enough strength to growl, “Tell the priest to get lost. I’m still alive!”.

Howard’s film pulsates with the same vitality, painting a vivid portrait of men who lived on the edge in an era when racing was genuinely a dance of death.

RATING: 8.5/10

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 (15)

If you weren’t spooked by James Wan’s 2011 supernatural horror Insidious, you stand little chance of making sense of the self-referential sequel.

Screenwriter Leigh Whannell, co-creator of the bloodthirsty Saw films, reunites with director Wan to craft a mind-bending narrative that is disappointingly light on edge-of-seat shocks.

Chapter 2 continues directly after events of the first film and repeatedly throws back to unexplained phenomena from the opening chapter.

The mood swings between suspense and comedy prove even more jarring in the second instalment courtesy of bumbling spectral investigators Specs (Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), who take important decisions by playing a variation of paper, rock, scissors called bear, hunter, ninja.

Dialogue creaks almost as much as the house at the centre of the malevolent manifestation.

“Let’s just say, this is not a place where a lot of good things have happened!” ominously declares one character, barely resisting the urge to wink at the camera.

When we last met Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) and his wife Renai (Rose Byrne), they had moved into a new house with their sons Dalton (Ty Simpkins) and Foster (Andrew Astor), where dark forces prevailed. Josh’s mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) invited her supernaturally gifted friend Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) to cleanse the property, aided by Specs and Tucker.

In the ensuing battle between good and evil, Elise gave up her life to shepherd Josh and Dalton between the corporeal and spirit worlds.

Chapter 2 opens with a flashback to 1986 and Elise’s first encounter with young Josh.

Fast-forwarding to the present day, police probe Elise’s demise, forcing the Lamberts to move in with Lorraine.

The family prays the nightmarish ordeal is over. Of course it’s not.

Josh begins to behave erratically, which sets poor Renai on edge, and her nerves are shredded when she is attacked by a ghostly figure (Danielle Bisutti) in the living room.

Weird episodes increase in frequency and Lorraine approaches Elise’s old cohort Carl (Steve Coulter) in the hope that he can connect with the dearly departed.

“We have questions that need answering,” pleads Lorraine, “and the only person we could think to ask... was Elise.”

Insidious: Chapter 2 is even more ludicrous than the first film, squandering the talents of the cast in thankless and occasionally risible roles.

Wilson and Byrne are both reduced to gibbering lunatics while Hershey stumbles blindly around abandoned buildings – an apt metaphor for the directionless script.

Unintentional laughs supplant screams of terror, but to give Wan credit he doesn’t resort to splatter and gore.

The spectre of a potential third film in the series haunts the closing frames – the only thing that sends a chill down the spine in 105 forgettable minutes.

RATING: 5/10

JUSTIN AND THE KNIGHTS OF VALOUR (PG)

A clumsy yet kind-hearted boy on the cusp of adulthood discovers heroism comes from within, during Manuel Sicilia’s computer-animated adventure.

Justin And The Knights Of Valour is a stirring tale of derring-do set in an olde worlde kingdom steeped in myth and magic that was once ravaged by dragons.

A predominantly British voice cast adds lustre to the simplistic screenplay, co-written by Matthew Jacobs and Sicilia, including over-the-top comic turns from David Walliams as a demented wizard and Rupert Everett as a painfully vain evil henchman, who is a slave to sartorial daring.

The setting is reminiscent of the splendid 2010 animation How To Train Your Dragon but Sicilia’s picture lacks that film’s heart and soul, only faintly tugging our heartstrings when the ill-prepared hero fears all of his efforts have counted for nought and whimpers, “I wanted to come back a knight but I’m coming back a loser!”

A flame-throwing toothless crocodile is hurled merrily into the sweet and inoffensive mix as the narrative ambles at a gentle pace, building to the inevitable moment when fears are cast aside and gallantry struts forward to win the day.

The eponymous hero is Justin (voiced by Freddie Highmore), a sweet-natured boy who dreams of becoming a valiant knight like his grandfather, Sir Roland.

However, the Queen (Olivia Williams) has banished knights from her kingdom, and has placed her trust instead in lawyers including Justin’s father Reginald (Alfred Molina), who wants him to abandon his dreams and pursue justice instead.

During a visit to his gran (Julie Walters), Justin in inspired to defy his father.

“If you want to be a knight, you’ll need a quest,” Gran tells him tenderly and Justin decides that he will bid farewell to his sweetheart Lara (Tamsin Egerton) in order to find his grandfather’s sword.

En route, he joins forces with a plucky barmaid called Talia (Saoirse Ronan) and a soothsayer called Malquiades (Walliams), and gains valuable training from three wise monks – Blucher (James Cosmo), Legantir (Charles Dance) and Braulio (Barry Humphries) – at the fabled Tower of Wisdom.

Meanwhile, banished Sir Heraclio (Mark Strong) and his sidekick Sota (Everett) exploit the absence of the knights to plot a coup.

Justin And The Knights Of Valour lacks the visual sophistication of a lot of recent animations but does boast one stand-out sequence: a history lesson styled as a tapestry come to life.

Vocal performances are solid but there’s a noticeable lack of sparkling one-liners and the grand finale lacks the big emotional wallop.

The underlying message of kindness and compassion, emphasized when one character declares “There is no honour in seizing power by force”, isn’t laid on too thick between some competently executed set pieces.

RATING: 5/10