Its title pretty much says it all: everything in and around the White House gets blown up in this movie. Again and again and again and again. And then once more for good measure. Surely this does not come as a surprise, assuming you’ve seen a Roland Emmerich film before. If you’re not a fan of explosions, this isn’t the choice for you. But if you’re looking for THE MOST explosions, it is.
Who’s in it? Channing Tatum (John Cale), Jamie Foxx (President James Sawyer), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Carol Finnerty), James Woods (Martin Walker), Jason Clarke (Emil Stenz), Richard Jenkins (Eli Raphelson), Joey King (Emily Cale), Rachelle Lefevre (Melanie)
What’s it about? Capitol Police officer and Secret Service agent wannabe John Cale takes his young daughter Emily on a tour of the White House to try and impress her. But he picked the worst day ever, because 1600 Penn falls under attack while they’re there. And when I say “under attack,” I mean UNDER ATTACK. For some reason, every weapon known to mankind is needed to blow the place up in order to try and take President Sawyer hostage. But Cale gets to him before the bad guys do after he’s separated from his daughter, who had to run to the little girls’ room right before the chaos starts erupting. Now Cale’s gotta save the President, restore order to the free world AND impress his sarcastic tween daughter! CAN HE DO IT?!?
What’s good? I’ve loved Jamie Foxx since his Wanda days on In Living Color. I can’t think of a performance of his I haven’t enjoyed (disclaimer: I’ve never seen Booty Call). So I went into White House Down knowing it was going to be completely absurd, but hoping that it wouldn’t become the movie that put a dent in Foxx’s armor for me. It didn’t. While this is just a so-so performance from both him and Tatum, the two of them together have great chemistry. (Exhibit A: (I Wanna) Channing All Over Your Tatum.) And the rest of the cast is respectable enough for you to just sit back, suspend disbelief and let the on-screen mayhem take over without being totally embarrassed you’re sitting there.
I think that in a movie like this, the director’s just gotta go all out; it’s a classic “go big or go home” scenario. And Emmerich knows how to go big when it comes to depicting new and improved ways to destroy iconic American landmarks. So as the situation escalates and more and more extreme tactics are used to alternately capture the President or save him, the plot was bound to veer into comedic territory before its ultimate resolution.
What could’ve been better? I mean, lots of things could’ve been much, much “better.” But this is not a film to be judged by, say, its characters’ dialogue or its plot’s relationship with reality. There are lines that are drop-dead stupid (one of the best (worst?) deals with a pen . . . you’ll know it when you hear it) and scenes that will make you shake your head — but you’ll probably still have a smile on your face. Like the part where Cale and the president drive in circus-clown-car crazy-eights around the White House lawn while trying to aim a rocket launcher out of the window. Yes, really. Given a sequence like that exists in this movie, along with parts of the story that involve everything from pissed-off tour guides to flag routines to nuclear submarines, I found it kind of cute that screenwriter James Vanderbilt (Zodiac, The Amazing Spider-Man) even attempted some semblance of a conspiracy theory and a few plot twists. You’re thinkin’ too hard, buddy.
The bottom line: If you’ve seen any of Roland Emmerich’s other disaster films, you should know what kind of ride you’re in for with White House Down. It is utterly ridiculous, but it’s still fun, and in this case its strong cast saves it from becoming the kind of dumb movie you should be ashamed to watch.
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