Cast: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Richard Jenkins, Joey King, James Woods
Director Roland Emmerich hasn’t been satisfied with destroying the White House, New York, or even the entire world (twice!). Now that he’s finally run out of new toys to play with, he’s running right back old ones with his latest movie White House Down. Emmerich may be turning down (no pun intended) his scope a few notches, but he’s still aiming to make one of the biggest action movies of the summer. With Olympus Has Fallen having already fit the bill for dumb White House action movie this year, does White House Down even stand a chance at making a mark on audiences this summer?
White House Down follows rejected secret service applicant John Cale (Channing Tatum) who finds himself in the middle of a White House takeover on the day of his interview. In the midst of the preposterous invasion, Cale finds that he’s the only man that can protect President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) from the ruthless team of mercenaries led by Emil Stenz (Jason Clarke). Determined to find his missing daughter and to escort the president to safety, Cale fights an army terminator style only to unravel an even more simplistic conspiracy. Despite the lighter plot, this movie actually packs on quite a few additional characters including Secret Service Agent Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Chief of Security Walker (James Woods), Speaker Ralphelson (Richard Jenkins), and General Caulfield (Lance Reddick) just to name a few.
The story of White House Down is essentially Die Hard meets Roland Emmerich with a little bit of extra cheese sprinkled in for fun. It’s dumb, loud, and hits on just about every action hero trope and stereotype you can imagine before the credits finally begin to roll. The movie tries to be clever by throwing in a few red herrings to hint that there may a shocking twist coming, but the plot is so simplistic and predictable that there’s not a twelve year old in the audience that won’t see every step coming. The worst offense this movie commits is having a villainous motivation that is in no way strong enough to warrant blowing up the capitol and white house. Pretty much anything goes in action movies like this, but if there’s one thing that’s really crucial even with an outrageous plot, it’s consistent character motivation. This movie attempts at giving villains something new to fight for, but despite the risk it just doesn’t feel quite believable.
Once you get all of these complaints out of the way you actually have an outrageously silly summer blockbuster that never dares to take itself too seriously. The action is absolutely ridiculous and just about any form of logic or reason you can imagine is thrown completely out the window. White House Down gives us the chance to see all of our favorite government buildings leveled, the poorly characterized bad guys inexplicably fight each other, and Channing Tatum take on absurd feats that even Rambo would find unbelievable. If Tatum isn’t walking away from enormous explosions untouched, he’s doing burnouts on the White House lawn. Needless to say, there is actually a lot of mindless fun to be had and the zany action is only the tip of the iceberg.
Jamie Foxx’s over the top performance as President James Sawyer actually makes for some of the funniest moments of the movie. Foxx clearly knew what he was getting into with White House Down because he plays up every little line and entrance to perfection. It’s enjoyable, but there were also plenty of lines that were so predictably cliché’ that I couldn’t help but face palm. Other actors in this movie don’t fair quite so well. While no actor is really a weak link, the cast never really gels together very well. At times I couldn’t help but feel like each member of the cast was playing in slightly different versions the same movie which made for some painfully clunky scenes. The best example aside from the two leads is the main villain who seems like he is in a far more dramatic (and compelling) film. Ultimately the characters work for the purposes of the movie, but unlike other American action classics like Airforce One or Emmerich’s own Independence Day, the cast doesn’t work together to create anything truly memorable.
The script for this movie feels like it’s about two decades too late to work as a mainstream blockbuster, but I found the tone to be quite novel. It never quite reaches the heights of its clear inspirations like Commando, 24, or Lethal Weapon, but the movie definitely captures the spirit of an 80’s action flick in a way that other recent attempts at throwbacks like Bullet to the Head, The Last Stand, and A Good Day to Die Hard never did. Not only is the dialog horrendous in all of the right ways, but the actors even throw out a few casual winks to the audience.
Despite the insanity that ensues in this movie, Emmerich actually seems fairly restrained on this outing. His impressive spectacle is still present, but after the man has already figured out so many creative ways to destroy the planet, his second attempt on the White House just seems less imaginative. Make no mistake, he still delivers the explosive adrenaline packed goods, but this time around his vision seems less driven.
Overall White House Down is a very enjoyable movie as long as you check logic at the door. The movie is unapologetically dumb and lavishes in is chaotic execution. The cheesy writing, the over the top acting, and the apocalyptic mind of Roland Emmerich all work together to make this a fun and exciting ride. White House Down may not do anything great and it may not be a classic, but it’s easily one of the more entertaining Independence Day movies to hit theater in recent years.