WHITE HOUSE DOWNDirector: Roland Emmerich
Cast: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Joey King, Rachelle Lefevre, James Woods, Richard Jenkins, Jason Clarke, Jake Weber, Garcelle Beauvais, Michael Murphy
Genre: Action, Thriller
Run Time: 132 mins
Opens: 27 June 2013
Rating: PG13 (Some Coarse Language and Violence)
U.S. Capitol Police Officer John Cale (Tatum), with his daughter Emily (King) in tow, heads to the White House for a job interview, hoping to become a Secret Service Agent. Carol Finnerty (Gyllenhaal), herself a Secret Service Agent and John’s former schoolmate, deems him unworthy. While taking a tour of the place after his rejection, John and Emily suddenly find themselves, along with other tourists and staffers, held hostage. A paramilitary group, comprising various dangerous miscreants and led by hardened mercenary Emil Stenz (Clarke), begins a hostile takeover of the White House. John finds himself having to protect President James Sawyer (Foxx), his daughter and the various others caught in the fray as a national crisis swiftly and violently unfolds.
A summer blockbuster best described as “Air Force One meets Die Hard, with Magic Mike teaming up with President Django” just has to be entertaining – no two ways about it. And by gosh, White House Down is all kinds of entertaining. Sure, its PG-13 rating might disappoint fans of hardcore action and it’s not going to start a renaissance of ‘80s-style action extravaganzas anytime soon, but this is the kind of movie which has the Presidential limousine drifting across the White House lawn with the baddies in pursuit. We can tell you there’s an audience for that. James Vanderbilt’s screenplay seems to have been written with just the right amount of self-awareness: the movie revels in its relative absurdity like a toddler in a ball pit and has a lot of fun with the premise, while stopping a safe distance short of mocking its audience.
Duelling movies aren’t new; moviegoers have borne witness to such battles as Dante’s Peak vs. Volcano, A Bug’s Life vs. Antz and Deep Impact vs. Armageddon. It’s only fair that White House Down be compared to Olympus Has Fallen, 2013’s other movie about a terrorist attack on the Executive Mansion. While it doesn’t have the cooler title, White House Down does have more lavish production values and being a Roland Emmerich picture, has lots of stuff going boom. White House Down also doesn’t take itself as seriously; at times, it’s almost a buddy movie but with the Prez as the buddy.
White House Down makes better use of its setting and the film features some very realistic facsimiles of the rooms, halls and other areas of 1600 Penn. However, the afore-mentioned PG-13 rating means the violence in this one is of a less visceral variety and while the computer-generated imagery is done better here, it’s still noticeable - particularly during the aerial sequences.
Roland Emmerich’s films are known as much for their “casts of thousands” as for their big-budget spectacle. While there aren’t as many characters here as in, say, 2012, there still are a good number of players to juggle. Tatum’s protagonist is idealistic rather than world-weary and he seems to be having more fun playing the action hero here than he did in the first G.I. JOE movie. Foxx and Tatum make for a decent action flick double act, even if Foxx just doesn’t come off as presidential enough, though he makes up for his lack of a dignified air with cheesy/enjoyable moments like handling a rocket launcher and yelling at terrorists not to touch his precious Air Jordans.
While this isn’t a realistic movie by any stretch, the villains in this one somehow come off as more credible than the North Korean terrorists in Olympus Has Fallen. Jason Clarke is believable, scary even, as a tough, scruffy former Delta Force soldier-turned cold-blooded gun for hire. Jimmi Simpson is a hoot as a campy, bespectacled “evil hacker” stereotype who declares “Skip Tyler is in!” and seizes control of the nation’s defense systems. King gets to be more than just the “kidnapped daughter” and is something of an important supporting character. While Gyllenhaal doesn’t get lots to do standing around in the Pentagon’s situation room, at least she isn’t relegated to the role of disposable love interest. Veteran actors James Woods and Richard Jenkins are also on hand to lend the actioner some gravitas, and Nicolas Wright as the comic relief tour guide is, refreshingly enough, not annoying.
Emmerich has never been a critic’s darling, but his films usually possess some sort of mass appeal and that’s in full force here. Many of his films are set in multiple locations across the world, but the focus on the titular location actually prevents the story from feeling scattershot, and outlandish, exciting action sequences are not in short supply. In this era of action thrillers being too self-serious, it’s good that this strikes an adequate balance between intense moments and levity so that it doesn't come off as a downer, but as a good popcorn-munchin’ time.
SUMMARY: As can be expected of a Roland Emmerich flick, White House Down isn’t nuanced or layered, but it’s blisteringly entertaining and serves up enjoyable summer blockbuster thrills by the spoonful.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 STARS