Roland Emmerich’s White House Down (not to be confused with Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen) follows John Cale (Channing Tatum), a US Capitol Police officer assigned with protecting the Speaker of the House (played by Richard Jenkins). Cale’s estranged daughter, Emily (Joey King), is a political junkie and in an effort to win her favor, he applies for a position with the U.S. Secret Service – and joins her for a tour of the White House.
However, when a fringe terrorist group lays siege to the White House, Cale manages to free U.S. President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) from his captors – unfortunately, Emily is taken hostage in the process. As the paramilitary intruders scour the White House in search of Sawyer, Cale becomes the only person who can both save Emily and escort the President to safety – not to mention, stand between the hostile force and their goals of global devastation.
As a director and producer, Emmerich is known for his extensive resume of blockbuster action movies, with enormous CGI spectacle and ensemble casts, including Stargate, Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012, among others. As a result, many moviegoers will likely be expecting the same over-the-top approach and large-scale CGI destruction that has become a staple in his action movie offerings. However, even though White House Down includes memorable blockbuster moments, it’s much more straightforward and focused (though just as eccentric) – sold primarily by the team of Tatum and Foxx, not explosive visuals.
As a result, the film is much more akin to the one-man-army formula seen in favorites like Die Hard, as Foxx and Tatum divide their time between sneaking in the shadows and gun/fist fighting (with plenty of cathartic one-liners thrown into the mix). A couple of extravagant set-pieces punctuate the core hide-and-shoot formula to ratchet up the excitement and explosions to summer spectacle level, but anything in between is mostly flimsy filler designed to move the plot forward to the next action encounter. The result is an enjoyable action hero tour of the bullet-riddeled White House grounds – albeit one that will require viewers to switch-off their brains on more than one occasion.
Despite some tongue-in-cheek banter between Cale and Sawyer (as well as the main villains), the White House Down story takes itself pretty seriously at times – making an effort to ground the proceedings in contemporary geo-politics. Attempts to center the movie around present-day issues help make twists and turns in the plot relevant, but Emmerich’s sometimes on-the-nose message results in predictable revelations and fallout that might be off-putting to certain viewers (especially anyone who disagrees with the director’s banal characterization of the political arena).
Of course, White House Down is not designed to be a provocative drama about political maneuvering, it is (above all else) a silly summer action film. In service of that goal, the core story and characters are competent in their jobs – even if Emmerich spends a bit too much time spinning a web of political corruption.
Channing Tatum brings an entertaining mix of campy humor and unrelenting action chops, which should not come as a surprise to viewers who enjoyed seeing the actor flex his comedy wit and/or muscles in 21 Jump Street, Magic Mike, or Haywire, in addition to others. Cale isn’t the most nuanced character that Tatum has played, but he’s a serviceable (although ultimately forgettable) leading man – one that audiences should have no problem following from firefight to fistfight for the majority of the film.
Jamie Foxx is equally entertaining as President Sawyer, delivering fun twists to standard commander-in-chief tropes while serving as an especially amusing foil to Cale. Sawyer is behind a number of the White House Down‘s best moments and even though he’s accountable for a few eye-rolling setbacks, his personal quirks and bold stance in the face of uncertainty offset any derivative plot setups.
Supporting players are also strong and include Jason Clarke, Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Woods, and (as mentioned) Richard Jenkins, along with several other familiar faces (such as The Wire, Lost, and Fringe alum Lance Reddick). After a string of standout side roles (in Zero Dark Thirty and Lawless, to name a few), Clarke gets to enjoy a bit more screen time this round as mercenary leader, Emil Stenz – a sharp counterpoint to Tatum’s John Cale in both cunning and physical strength. Several key scenes rely heavily on thirteen-year-old Joey King and the young actress is a solid addition – whether chastising daddy Cale or staring down terrorist bad guys. Unfortunately, one of her final contributions will, without question, result in eye rolls and unintended laughs – serving as an example of the disconnect that exists when the film pays homage to its campy action hero pedigree in the middle of bloody life-and-death drama.
Emmerich has produced a competent (read: not essential) blockbuster thriller that is likely to satisfy filmgoers who were intrigued by the trailers and/or core premise – and the pairing of Tatum and Foxx provides plenty of worthwhile character moments to carry the film through any predictable or underwhelming story beats. However, even with those good points, White House Down ultimately falls short of classic films in the genre (i.e., Die Hard).
If you’re still on the fence about White House Down, check out the trailer below:
White House Down runs 131 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action and violence including intense gunfire and explosions, some language and a brief sexual image. Now playing in theaters.
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