Oh, America. You are to blame for White House Down. Director Roland Emmerich (2012, The Day After Tomorrow, Independence Day) is to blame, too, but the existence of this silly movie falls squarely on your heads. This is what you have wrought with your desperate need for escapism and shallow reasons for flag- waving, with your constant demands to be entertained by gunfire and explosions and hot guys in sweaty tank tops. I know things could be worse. Someone could have made another Pirates of the Caribbean movie or made us sit through the last 45 minutes of Man of Steel again. But this is getting old.
To be fair, White House Down — not to be confused with Olympus Has Fallen, only a few months old and featuring the same plot — is not unwatchable. It’s not even painful. It’s not clever, and it makes no sense, and if the country’s secret service forces are this inept I’m emigrating as soon as I’m done writing this, but there’s passing fun to be had. Problem is, you’ve seen this sort of fun before (and not just in Olympus Has Fallen). It’s Independence Day without the aliens and a president partial to Air Jordans. At some point, we could really use a more original action film that does the genre justice.
The film stars Channing Tatum as John Cale (no, not that John Cale), a Capitol cop with dreams of protecting the president (Jamie Foxx). As the movie opens, John is on security duty for the Speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins), but he’s got an interview with a Secret Service bigwig (Maggie Gyllenhaal) he hopes will vault him up the ladder. She shoots him down, though, and he’s reduced to taking his precocious 11-year-old daughter (Joey King) on the White House tour.
Naturally this happens to be the day that terrorists strike — and strike pretty easily (don’t believe me? Go try to leave an unattended cart in the middle of the Capitol rotunda and tell me how that works out for you). Explosions rock the White House. John and his daughter are separated, but John gets his chance to prove his mettle when he stumbles across and rescues the president.
If only White House Down had had just one surprising moment — just one! But no. The script by James Vanderbilt (The Amazing Spider-Man) seems to think it’s trickier than it is; you know where this runaway train is going before it jumps the tracks. James Woods shows up early on, and do you really need me to tell you he’s a suspicious character, what with those cold shark eyes and dead mackerel stare? Do you really wonder what’s going to happen to Air Force One with the vice president on board or the Delta Team forces heading to rescue the hostages in the White House? Do you really think John’s daughter is going to do as she’s told?
For most of the movie, Foxx and Tatum sneak around the White House plotting to escape, shooting bad guys and wrecking the West Wing. Their chemistry, not surprisingly, turns out to be the movie’s saving grace. Foxx is cool and surprisingly presidential (or at least adept at showing us a president we’d like to support, a smart, physically brave guy who can easily handle an automatic weapon even though he talks a good peace game and can drop an F bomb at the appropriate moment with gravitas). As for Tatum, he’s a solid action hero, handsome and charismatic. And yes, odds are there will be shrieks from the audience when he strips down to the tank top. They’re good together, but not good enough to make White House Down anything more than your basic summer blockbuster retread.
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Channing Tatum, Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Woods, Jason Clarke, Richard Jenkins, Joey King.
Director: Roland Emmerich.
Screenwriter: James Vanderbilt.
Producers: Roland Emmerich, Brad Fischer, Larry J. Franco, Laeta Kalogridis, Harald Kloser, James Vanderbilt.
A Columbia Pictures release. Running time: 130 minutes. Prolonged sequences of action and violence including intense gunfire and explosions, some language and a brief sexual image. Playing at area theaters.