Movie review: White House Down

20130918-084353.jpgThis years second terrorists-take-over-the-White-House movie hits more or less the same beats as Olympus Has Fallen did earlier in the year, but the difference being that Roland Emmerich’s film isn’t nearly as po-faced and doesn’t take itself half as seriously as OHF did, and comes off as the more enjoyable film of the two if not the better one. Even if they are both copying Die Hard.

Channing Tatum stars as John Cale, wannabe Secret Service agent who just happens to be in the White House, with his daughter in tow, for an interview when the terrorists attack. Jamie Foxx plays the POTUS in peril, with a performance that doesn’t so much take inspiration from Obama but practically copy him wholesale. Both are extremely likeable actors with fine chemistry and scenes with them together (most of the movie) bounce along with a comic energy that helps keep the film afloat throughout the bloated runtime. Tatum has the exasperated everyman under extreme pressure down to a tee (and I defy you not to laugh along with him in a moment near the end), and Foxx is effortlessly charismatic throughout.

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To paraphrase Sergeant Al Powell from Die Hard, writer James Vanderbilt and director Emmerich have the ‘How to make a Die Hard movie playbook, and they’re playing it step by step.’

Hero in the wrong place at the wrong time? Check.
Family member in the hands of the bad guys? Check.
Spend some time in a lift shaft? Check.
Have lead character wear a white vest? Check.

But aside from those similarities the film comes into its own whenever it cuts loose and is allowed to have fun. If Olympus took itself too seriously, White House Down has its tongue in its cheek in every scene. How else can you explain a scene where the President fires a rocket launcher out of his limo that’s circling the White House lawn? It’s gloriously bonkers and is where the film is most comfortable. Although at times that tone meshes uneasily with the more brutal elements of the script (people are shot and killed all over the show after all) or the scenes set in the Pentagon, with Maggie Gyllenhaal’s underwritten Secret Service agent, which while necessary slow the film down.

Being a Roland Emmerich film, director of such blockbusting world destroying movies like Independence Day and 2012, the destruction is second to none. It’s not as outrageously bombastic as ID4 or 2012 and more “grounded” (having neither aliens invading or neutrinos mutating) but still, anything that could potentially explode explodes before too long. Gunfights are expertly staged and Tatum comes across as a credible action hero, albeit one in a comedy that has action movie aspirations rather than the other way around.

Ultimately it’s a toned down 12A pantomime version of Die Hard, with boo-hiss baddies and a cheer for the heroes mentality. At times it gets too complex for its own good but for pure popcorn entertainment, it’s peerless.

3 stars

Review by Jonathan Cardwell.

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