Once upon a time I didn’t care much for Channing Tatum. He appeared in terrible films and gave less than acceptable performances, and sometimes worse than that. Then, over the last year and a half or so, he’s completely turned it around. From appearing in smaller parts that stretched his abilities to really capturing my attention (I still don’t know how) with Magic Mike, Tatum is on a bit of a roll and can now claim to be a bonafide action hero as well. White House Down goes on for too long, is incredibly silly, and director Roland Emmerich consistently tries to dumb down scribe James Vanderbilt‘s already only decent screenplay, but the chemistry between Tatum and Jamie Foxx is excellent before long you’re more than wrapped up in this adventure. Easily superior to earlier this year’s similar flick Olympus Has Fallen, this movie is ridiculous, but one of the better summer movies of 2013 so far. It’s hardly great, but it’s fun popcorn entertainment that echoes something like Die Hard in just the way it should. In fact, for my money Tatum does a better John McClane than Bruce Willis did earlier this year in A Good Day to Die Hard. I was aware of the faults of White House Down, but I was having a good enough time that I just didn’t care.
Capital policeman John Cale (Tatum) wants nothing more than to impress his daughter and work for the Secret Service. He’s currently guarding the Speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins), but dreams of something more. He also wants to impress his daughter (Joey King), so when he gets an interview at the White House and a pass to bring his daughter, John’s feeling pretty good about himself. When they go on an official tour after a disastrous interview with the deputy head of the Secret Service (Maggie Gyllenhaal) that Cale used to know, a chance meeting for his daughter with President Sawyer (Foxx) raises his spirits. Then, all hell breaks loose. A bomb goes off at the capital, but that’s just a distraction as a group of paramilitary invaders led by Stentz (Jason Clarke) lay siege to the White House. Soon, John’s daughter is held captive and he’s running around the building trying to save her, though first he finds the President and winds up hanging on to him for dear life. It gets pretty ridiculous (I haven’t even mentioned the betrayals and double crosses), but damn is it fun as well.
The acting is about what you get from a film by Emmerich, but Channing Tatum does do better than average. He’s completely buyable as an everyman cop turned reluctant superhero. Tatum obviously looks the part of an action lead, but he brings this lack of confidence that shouldn’t work, but does. His way of speaking and relationship with those around him reminded me a lot of a young Willis in Die Hard, as mentioned previously. It’s hardly tremendous acting, but Tatum is one of the reasons that this movie works. Jamie Foxx is doing a Barack Obama impersonation for the most part, but it doesn’t come off as silly as you’d think. Both of them have great chemistry with each other, essentially for this sort of movie. Richard Jenkins just looks like an old politician, so he’s a solid addition to the cast, while James Woods is perfectly cast as the oily (and perhaps worse) head of the Secret Service. Maggie Gyllenhaal is a bit wasted in her part, basically relaying information to Cale, while Joey King is used mostly to move the plot forward. Jason Clarke is able to portray a pretty nasty bad guy, though not much is asked of him. The rest of the cast includes the likes of Rachelle Lefevre, Michael Murphy, and Nicolas Wright, among others, but it’s Tatum and Foxx’s show.
Director Roland Emmerich has destroyed the White House before, but never in this way. It’s decidedly a different sort of action movie for him, and he’s only partially up to the task. More at home with special effects destruction than gun battles and hand to hand combat, Emmerich cuts the film a little too abruptly, making it hard to follow here and there. He also constantly tries to lighten the tone, which works more often than not, but at times can undercut the points of the screenplay by James Vanderbilt. To be fair, Vanderbilt isn’t doing another Zodiac here, but he’s trying to get at a few things and Emmerich seems less than interested. Still, the assault on the White House and everything like that is handled better than in Olympus has Fallen, so I’m not going to complain.
White House Down is a summer action movie to a T, but for once I mean that as a compliment. Everything ridiculous about the material is at least partially on purpose and Channing Tatum makes for a pretty ideal action hero. If you can deal with the inherent silliness and plot holes required by this sort of flick, there’s a lot to like. I had no idea what to expect, but I wound up digging this film more than enough to recommend to all of you. Turn your brain off and enjoy…
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!