Review: White House Down (2013)
White House Down proves it’s alright to be corny and dumb if you wear your sentiments upfront and just entertain the living crap out of the audience. I don’t even know if I have the ability to be objective about this film. I had far too good of a time in the cold theatre on a hot day when I wanted nothing more than to be taken away into a simpler world and enjoy the easy chemistry between Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx as they beat up bad guys. But I also don’t want to sell the film short. It knows what it wants to be and it does it gloriously well.
I’m a soft fan of the cornball spectacle of Roland Emmerich. I got a kick out of 2012’s disaster porn and I will watch the perennial classic Independence Day every time it plays on TV. I know he’s not a very bright director, but he has a knack for blowing things up, and his style of action is coherent and easy to follow in a way too many modern action films aren’t. I knew what I was getting into with White House Down and I wasn’t disappointed.
There are a couple things that really pleased me about White House Down and those are its two leads. Channing Tatum has become a solid leading man. He understands his limitations as a likeable hunk and does the overwhelmed normal dude shtick very well, even though he looks nothing like a normal dude. This man is no longer the boring action figure of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. He’s become a bonafide movie star.
In White House Down Tatum plays John Cale (this film shouts its admiration for Die Hard loud and proud), a war vet working the security detail for the Speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins, always good). Cale's daughter Emily (Joey King) is a big politics nerd and so in an effort to make up for some of his shortcomings with her, he surprises her with a tour of the White House. Of course, bad guys attack the White House, Cale becomes separated from Emily, and he becomes the lone hope for saving both his daughter and the president.
White House Down takes an admirable amount of time setting up the situation between Cale and his daughter and clearly laying out the geography of the white house as a physical building. This means when the shit goes down we understand Cale’s motivations, but also maintain spatial orientation when the action scenes take place. We never wonder where Cale is or why he’s going there.
I also appreciate how good Jamie Foxx is in the nerdy sidekick role of President Sawyer. The chemistry between Tatum and Foxx is some of the best to be found in buddy films of recent years. A much played scene in the trailers where Tatum is held in a chokehold by a baddie and pleads with a fumbling Foxx to shoot the villain is every bit as entertaining as advertised. I could watch more films where Foxx takes the lame sidekick role, even if he excels at playing badasses like last year’s Django.
The motivations of the villains played by James Woods and Jason Clarke are pretty dumb and vague, but Woods and Clarke are good at chewing their screen time and make for enjoyably nasty villains. I also appreciate the film’s right-hearted, though heavy-handed, politics. In the story world, Foxx’s President is controversial because he is against the military industrial complex and is coauthoring a peace treaty with Iran in the Middle East. The villains are American warmongers who feel their military sacrifices have to be justified with the blood of Arabs. It’s not subtle, but it’s better than making the villains the typical offensive foreigner types.
White House Down is a nice antidote to the current grim state of affairs in American blockbusters. I really like Man of Steel, but not every big action movie has to be overwhelmingly gritty. White House Down has coherent action, likable actors, and great energy. It’s what you need to put a big goofy smile on your face this Fourth of July.
7 out of 10
White House Down (2013, USA)
Directed by Roland Emmerich; written by James Vanderbilt; starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Richard Jenkins, Jason Clarke, Joey King, Lance Reddick and James Woods.