Director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, 2012) is a showman. White House Down, for better and worse, is a heck of a show.
If you're looking for originality or you're looking for a truly serious take on the concept of an all out assault on The White House, then why would you be going to a Roland Emmerich film in the first place? With Emmerich, you know exactly what you're going to get and with White House Down you get a darn fine version of a Roland Emmerich film.
White House Down isn't a perfect film, but it isn't supposed to be. It's supposed to be a over-the-top, action-packed and tongue-in-cheek film with loud and inescapable political messages amidst all the goofy chaos.
It helps to have a cast that is perfectly in tune with what's going on, and this time around Emmerich has cast the film almost perfectly. Current Hollywood darling Channing Tatum ups the ante on his claim to movie star status with his performance here as John Cale (No, not the former Velvet Underground star), a Capitol police officer with a well deserved reputation for immaturity and unreliability. When he shows up with his daughter (Joey King) for an interview to be part of the President's (Jamie Foxx) Secret Service detail, not only does he bomb the interview but, um, he just so happens to land smack dab in the middle of an all out assault on the nation's capitol by a rogue group of terrorists, racists and generally bad dudes headed up by Walker (James Woods).
Before long, Tatum's Cale is doing his best Bruce Willis imitation and going whup-ass alongside Jamie Foxx's seriously badass President Sawyer. All of this is really just an excuse for Emmerich to blow s*** up, including the Capitol Rotunda, the Lincoln Bedroom, the South Lawn and a variety of iconic White House items that will be familiar to anyone with even a bit of historical knowledge.
If you've enjoyed Emmerich's other films, which have for the most part been financial successes, then there's absolutely no reason you won't enjoy White House Down, which may very well be the best of them all. If, on the other hand, you've despised most of his films then there may not be enough "entertainment" here to change your mind. If, on the other hand (you do have two hands, right?), you simply want a breezy and entertaining popcorn flick with lots of action and witty one-liners then you may be hard-pressed to find it served up in any finer dose this summer.
Channing Tatum isn't called upon to be brilliant here, but he is called upon to be a likable action hero of sorts. Tatum does this kind of role incredibly well, a fact that continues to make him one of Hollywood's more bankable stars right now. While he doesn't yet have much in the way of range, what he does is done well and his role as Cale is done in a winning and entertaining fashion. Jamie Foxx is even more impressive as the witty, incredibly badass President Sawyer, a man who seems almost gleeful at being to go completely apeshit on people after having served in The White House just long enough. There's an obvious Barack Obama comparison to be had here, not because Foxx himself is black but because James Vanderbilt has filled the script with thinly veiled Obama references that will either make you chuckle or tick you off.
Count me in among the chucklers.
It's hard not to watch the film without thinking "Now this is the Obama I voted for" unless, of course, you actually voted for McCain or Romney.
This is the third time that Emmerich has managed to assault The White House, which makes one wonder whether or not Emmerich has unresolved political feelings or simply a demented sense of cinematic humor.
My guess is both.
James Woods is nicely cast as the baddie Walker, riding that perfect line between being truly bad and being cartoonishly smarmy. As Cale's daughter, Joey King does a fine job. Maggie Gyllenhaal has a nice appearance in a bit of a dual-edged role. Richard Jenkins plays ever so slightly against type as an untrustworthy House Speaker, and Michael Murphy is solid as the vice-president.
Completely preposterous to consider yet a complete blast if you're willing to give into it, White House Down may very well be the popcorn flick you've been waiting for all summer. A throwback to the lighter action flicks of the 90's, White House Down is everything you'd expect from a Roland Emmerich flick done just about as well as Emmerich can possibly do it.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic