White House Down Review: Tour’s Over
Director Roland Emmerich has blown up the White House before. In fact, he’s blown up a lot of things in his big screen career. But this is the first time he’s done it with Channing Tatum, which after Olympus Has Fallen just a few months ago, let’s face it, is why anyone cares about White House Down.
We meet John Cale (Tatum), an officer with the Capitol Police, on a pretty promising day in his life. But, it’s about to get a whole lot worse. Cale, charged with protecting the Speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins), is trying to trade up, and thanks to some targeted flirting, he’s landed himself an interview with the secret service. Enter complication one: Cale’s a fairly absentee father, whom we learn enlisted a few years after his daughter was born, and is now trying to earn his way back into the politically-obsessed pre-teen girl’s life.
Cale brings his daughter on the interview, trying to make up for missing her flag routine at the school talent show weeks earlier. Enter complication two: the woman in charge of selecting the president’s detail (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is an old college fling who doesn’t seem willing to believe Cale’s speech about how he’s changed over the last few years. Defeated and embarrassed to admit so, Cale lies to his daughter about how the interview went, and joins a tour group heading through the White House.
Cale’s journey is set against the seeming end to conflict in the Middle East. President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) has decided to embrace diplomacy and pull all troops out of the region, hoping each nation will sign onto his new peace treaty. This obviously upsets a lot of right-wing members of the government and press, but really enrages the profiteering arms manufacturers who back a lot of them. Enter complication three: a paramilitary group with assistance from insiders in the administration blows up the Capitol Building and seize the White House, holding the tour group and President Sawyer hostage.
Of course, they didn’t count on Cale being a part of that group, or that he’d break off to try and find his daughter after the lockdown. Or that, like John McClane before him, Cale’s ingenuity and feats of strength, skill and stamina defy all earth-born logic.
Make no mistake, White House Down is absolutely bananas. James Vanderbilt’s spec script borrows heavily from tropes of its genre predecessors, but shockingly feels more akin to the cult Van Damme film Sudden Death, just absent a giant ice skating penguin mascot. But, with a tempered performance from Foxx, who somehow steers clear of being an Obama-era caricature, and the ever-charming presence of Tatum (see any of my previous reviews), the ride is pretty engaging and at times, even suspenseful. This doesn’t mean the twists aren’t ruined by characters that reek of evil from their first minutes of screen time, or that a huge amount of story is taken up by a broken family trying to repair itself.
Yet the blend of comedy, action and suspense maintains a delicate balance, not just with the quipping male leads trying to find their way off the property by mowing circles in the presidential limo on the White House lawn. Joey King throws in a nice turn as Tatum’s daughter Emily, an avid video blogger who manages to leak footage of the terrorists’ faces. Nicholas Wright is the fun surprise though, as the overeager tour guide for the group who steps up to protect the young girl.
The summer’s continuing rampant cinematic carnage is the real star of the movie, with not one, but two national monuments going up in flames, scores of government agents slaughtered, and a few members of the executive branch shot, stabbed and blown up. At some moments, it becomes slightly uncomfortable to watch, with some segments of the U.S. political sector constantly wary of such attacks being imminent, valid or not. Here’s where the farce of it all comes to the rescue, letting you know it’s going to be okay, because the country’s first black president just took down an attacker with repeated kicks to the face saying, “Get your hands off my Jordans!”
White House Down verges on next-level bonkers during scenes like an explosive standoff in the presidential pool house, yet is viscerally shaking when it tackles realistic moments of action and terror. Fans of Die Hard-esque action flicks and heckling one-liners will not be disappointed.
Images courtesy of Reiner Bajo, Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Entertainment