Review: White House Down
PLOT: When a paramilitary group takes over the White House, a U.S Capitol cop, John Cale (Channing Tatum) - who flunked his interview to join the secret service- is the only one left to protect the president (Jamie Foxx), and prevent World War III.
REVIEW: Hey wait, doesn't this all seem a little familiar? Didn't Gerard Butler just save the president from North Korea? Who's screwing with the commander in chief now? OK, to be fair James Vanderbilt's script for WHITE HOUSE DOWN was already making the rounds before OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN ever got close to production (read my review of that film HERE), so it's not really a case of one movie ripping off the other. While that film took a hardcore, R-rated (almost retro) action approach, WHITE HOUSE DOWN is a tent-pole PG-13 movie that's clearly aiming for the widest possible audience.
Truth be told, Roland Emmerich's movies haven't worked for me in a long time. While I loved STARGATE and THE PATRIOT, and enjoyed ID4 as a kid (it plays sillier now than it did in '97), his last few movies- 10,000 B.C, THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW, and 2012 really didn't work for me except on a “so bad it's good” kind of way. To my surprise, I ended up really getting a kick out of WHITE HOUSE DOWN. While it's easily as ridiculous as any of Emmerich's other movies, this time the cheese factor was just right and I ended up having a whale of a time with it.
If WHITE HOUSE DOWN is patterned on anything, it's Emmerich's own INDEPENDENCE DAY (which even gets named-checked), mixed with a heavy dose of DIE HARD. In fact, the DIE HARD influence is so strong that the baddies' hacker, played by Jimmi Simpson, is clearly modeled on Clarence Gilyard's Theo, to the point that he even listens to classical music (not 'Ode to Joy'- that would be too obvious).
Channing Tatum's everyman hero also seems heavily patterned on John McClane. Like Willis in DIE HARD, he's named John, and spends most of the movie in a dirty-undershirt. He's a similar kind of working-class hero, with him almost being laughed out of his secret service interview for not having the right qualifications. And where McClane had to rescue his wife, here Cale's priority is his precocious daughter, who's been rounded up as a hostage by the baddies. A lot of the DIE HARD story-beats work their way into the story, with the villains being initially unaware of who Cale's daughter is, and Tatum at first trying to resist the call the action until being forced into action to save the president's life.
While people may have once scoffed at Tatum being turned into an action hero, it can't be denied that Tatum feels just right in the part. His massive female fanbase will love Emmerich's liberal sprinkling of “cute” scenes, with Tatum being introduced while talking to a squirrel, and the stuff with his daughter. The rest of us will like how Tatum seems to be doing a lot of his own stunts, and plays along with Emmerich's playful vibe, differentiating it from the more serious OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN.
As the commander in chief, more than a little Barack Obama has worked it's way into Jamie Foxx's performance, although this isn't a full-on impersonation. Foxx's buddy-buddy camaraderie with Tatum is fun to watch. He also doesn't take the part too seriously, with the president even finding time early on to slip into his Air Jordan's, making the running around the White House a little easier on his feet. Stupid? Yes. Funny? Also yes.
The baddies here are a rogues gallery of ultra-right wingers, with their ranks including white-power extremists, mercenaries, and disillusioned soldiers, bankrolled- as Foxx puts it- by the “military-industrial complex”. Conspiracy buffs will love this. The gang of no-goodnik's is led by Jason Clarke, a former black ops soldier looking for a little payback. Ultimately he's just the henchman of a big bad who's revealed early in the film, although I won't spoil who it is here- even though it's painfully obvious.
The rest of the cast is very solid, as is the usual in an Emmerich movie. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays the secret service agent who's sidelined and has to talk Tatum through the White House on a walkie-talkie (the Reginald VelJohnson part- although she's cuter), while Richard Jenkins is the Speaker of the house who finds himself the next-in-line to be president. James Woods makes a welcome return to the mainstream as the head of the secret service, complete with a Johnny Unitas style flat-top haircut that makes him look stern and menacing.
Of course, no matter what the pedigree of the cast is, it can't be denied that WHITE HOUSE DOWN is absolutely absurd, to the point that it makes OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN look relatively modest by comparison. However, that's part of the charm of Roland Emmerich films. In his first all-out action movie since UNIVERSAL SOLDIER, WHITE HOUSE DOWN benefits from some of the clearest, and easiest to follow action scenes in recent memory, with this ditching the BOURNE-like quick-cutting that's been in vogue lately. Emmerich seems to realize that's the movie he's making is ridiculous, so he has fun with it, even including a hilarious car chase across the White House lawn, complete with a rocket-launcher wielding president (with a newscaster having the best line of the movie, saying- with a straight-face- “it appears that the president is firing a rocket launcher at his pursuers,” or something to that extent). The only way this could have been more ridiculous is if aliens suddenly landed, but luckily Emmerich is saving those for INDEPENDENCE DAY 2 (although zombies get a shout out).
Obviously WHITE HOUSE DOWN won't be everyone's idea of a good time, but I had a blast with it. At times, it comes dangerously close to either (A) being too stupid, or (B) being too much of a DIE HARD-clone, but in it's 137 minutes, it comes just shy of overstaying it's welcome. Like OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN, you need to check your brain at the door, but also like that film, it's a lot of fun. I'd say it's easily Emmerich's best movie in at least a decade.