White House Down


Channing Tatum as Officer John Cale
Jamie Foxx as President James Sawyer
Maggie Gyllenhaal as Agent Carol Finnerty
Jason Clarke as Emil Stez
Richard Jenkins as Speaker Eli Raphelson
James Woods as Agent Martin Walker
Joey King as Emily Cale
Nicolas Wright as Donnie Donaldson
Lance Reddick as General Caulfield
Michael Murphy as Vice President Alvin Hammond
Rachelle Lefevre as Melanie

Like all good action movie heroes, John Cale (Channing Tatum) is an overachiever trapped in a screw-up’s body. He’s not very organized, not always very serious, not always able to finish what he starts. It’s what ruined his marriage and distanced him from his daughter (Joey King). The one thing he was ever good at was being a soldier. Which, it turns out, is actually a pretty good set of skills to have when terrorists invade the White House and take the President (Jamie Foxx) captive.

If “Olympus Has Fallen” taught us anything it’s that such a patently ridiculous set up will only work within a suitably ridiculous movie. Which itself will only work if the film itself realizes how silly it is and approaches everything with a suitable sense of irony. And if director Roland Emmerich has proven anything in his career, it’s that he has a solid sense of irony.

No, that’s not the right word. What am I looking for? Travesty, that’s it.

This particular one has a slightly less wooden than usual Tatum trying to reconnect with his White House obsessed 11-year-old daughter (like most 11 year olds are) by taking her on a tour on the same day a collection of clich├ęs, I mean mercenaries, blast through the best bodyguards you can find, and tons of military security, by posing as home theater repairmen. If only they had been watching “Die Hard” instead of preparing to kidnap the President they could have seen how all this was going to turn out.

At least right up to the point where the Presidential limo is doing donuts on the lawn, trying to avoid the SUV with a minigun attached to it trying to blow it up. Then you start to give up on the whole thing and look for places to laugh (at or with, either is permissible, but only one is likely).

It would be really easy to just slag off on “White House Down” for all the things it does wrong. Really, really, really, really easy. So let’s look on the bright side instead.

“White House Down” is hilarious. Not because it’s supposed to be. Certainly not in the way Emmerich or screenwriter James Vanderbilt seem to want; everything that is supposed to be a joke falls flat, or we’ve seen many times before. But everything that is supposed to be heartwarming or uplifting or intense is so badly handled there is only one response to it.

The action scenes are decent enough, if uninspired or inspiring, but they are surrounded by such maudlin ridiculousness and terrible one liners they rise to another level, though not a good one.

Foxx, playing a semi-President Obama, gets the worst of it as he is only allowed to alternate between patriotic and terrible in his dialogue, which is often filled with the worst howlers in the script. Or the best, I’m still not sure. I only know you will leave this film yelling ‘I Choose The Pen!’ or you have no soul.

Everything and everyone else is interchangeable, from the over-the-top hacker to the unfeeling General who wants to send the troops in no matter what. The plot isn’t particularly remarkable even when it starts to become relentlessly insane. Which it does, exchanging tension for believability at a 1:1 ratio that eventually fizzles out.

Yes, there is some enjoyment to be had from “White House Down” if only from how inept it is. But Tatum does make for a fair action hero, even if he is covered up by bad comic relief and a surfeit of pointless characters (*cough*Gyllenhaal*cough*). Sure, most of your fun will be had from laughing at it, but that’s better than most bad movies.