So, I think that it’s a pretty safe conclusion to come to that Roland Emmerich is one of the undisputed kings of the Summer Popcorn Movie. His filmography boasts the likes of Stargate (1994), Independence Day (1996), The Patriot (2000), The Day After Tomorrow (2004), and 2012 (2009), so clearly the man knows ‘spectacle’. ‘White House Down’ is tailor-made for Emmerichs resume’. It’s not smart, but it does, undeniably, work as an escapist piece of summer entertainment. This movie is basically what would happen if ‘Die Hard’ (1988) hooked up with ‘Air Force One’ (1997) after a night of boozing and got ‘makin with the love’. The bastard offspring of that cinematic carnal union, with a touch of ‘The Rock’ (1996), would be ‘White House Down’.
The ‘story’ follows Channing Tatums wannabe Secret Service agent, ‘John Cale’, as he and his politics-obsessed (yeah, right!) 11 year old daughter get caught in the middle of a hostile takeover of the White House. ‘John Cale’ is then forced to become ‘John McClane’ (right down to the dirty undershirt!) in order to save the lil brat Emily, and The President himself (and naturally, the fate of the globe), played by Jamie Foxx…as Jamie Foxx.
What ensues is the expected smorgasbord of machine gun fire, fisticuffs, explosions, double crosses, people lit by computer screens, thinly veiled Leftist anti-military industrial complex rhetoric and wise-cracks. For what it is, it works. As long as you understand that they ARE going to ladle the (literally) flag-waving patriotic cheeze on thick (especially in the 3rd Act), while asking for some serious ‘suspension of disbelief’…you’ll mostly get a decent kick out of this.
The entire concept is ludicrous but in the hands of the shallow but accomplished Emmerich, it works as a winking throw-back to the ‘Die Hard on a …’ phase of the 1990s. One of the things that I must give the man extra credit for was staging, filming and editing action scenes that, for the most part, made perfect sense visually. I’ve hinted, in previous reviews, my growing distaste for frantic editing and shot compositions that hide the actual action of action scenes. Thankfully, Emmerich did not jump onto that particular gravy train. Here, action scenes are staged with framing and movements that effectively communicate to the audience everything that is happening, as it’s happening. It’s a sad state of affairs when I get all giddy cuz someone actually locked a camera shot down as opposed to letting it ‘float’ (looking at YOU, ‘Man of Steel’!) around.
The cast here is a full load of familiar faces. On top of Tatum and Foxx, we also get James Woods (sporting a scary ‘flat top’), Maggie Gyllenhaal (playing Maggie Gyllenhaal), Jason Clarke (not being anywhere near as scary as he was in ‘Zero Dark Thirty’), Matt Craven (still looking like a giant, hairless mouse), Lance Reddick (still just as robotic as he was on ‘Fringe’) and Jake Weber (turning up, then promptly vanishing…possibly on to the cutting room floor).
This cast gets bounced around through some appropriately grandiose action set pieces; like the fiery bombing of the Lincoln Memorial, the nuking (almost literally) of Air Force One, a high-speed chase involving SUVs, gatling guns and RPGs across the White House lawn, numerous choppers knocked explosively from the sky, thousands of bullets fired EVERYWHERE and a threatening ‘on approach’ air strike (a la ‘The Rock’). The action, as dumb as it is at times, delivers all the fitting notes for a large, loud and boisterous summer action movie.
Given that a good chunk of this movie is, for all intensive purposes, a ‘buddy’ flick there is also a generous helping of quips and wise-cracks rounding out the action and drama. As Channing Tatum aptly demonstrated in ’21 Jump Street’ (2012), he has unexpected reserves of charisma and comic-timing, which I find in itself amusing as first glances of the guy always make me think of a chunky beefcake with a brain consisting of warm toffee. Here, his interactions with both the Emily character, and with Jamie Foxx work well in the overall context, well enough that I did find myself hoping (knowing) that he’d kick some terrorist ass and take some terrorist names.
One thing that I was MAYBE a lil unsure of was the ease that this movie had with threatening a child with a gun. There was, AT LEAST, two occasions where Emily literally has a loaded gun put squarely in her Chloe Grace Moretz-looking face, one of which came with the threat of shooting her in the stomach. Maybe I’m just becoming an old fuddy duddy, but it seemed like it was verging on getting a little too sadistic. But, each time they reined it in and you best believe that those responsible got what was coming to them! Well, as far as the PG13 rating would allow.
All in all, ‘White House Down’ accomplished exactly what it set out to do, and that was to provide a big, dumb action movie that you could turn your brain off for and just enjoy as a silly, action-dependent ‘time waster’. Sure, a lot of the dialogue is vapid and there is an overly transparent attempt to be all ‘Liberal’ about the core subject matter but if you need to see SOMETHING in a nicely air conditioned and darkened theatre on a hot summer day/night, this is a safe bet. You PROBABLY won’t hate yourself for indulging in this cinematic equivalent of a Twinkie.
* I’m now eager for the chance to check out the OTHER ‘hijacked White House’ movie, ‘Olympus Has Fallen’, which I understand is the hardcore, mean-spirited version of this fluff, that earns its ‘R’ rating honestly.