Emmerich’s “White House Down” is dumb, but there’s an appealing quality to its dumbness. This is a movie where all of the action is almost entirely contained to the inside of the White House, and yet they still figured out a way to throw in a car chase. It has cheesy special effects, like a limo flipping into a pool that is laughable in its cartooniness. And while it’s not the first movie to turn the president of the United States into an action hero, it may be the first in which the president aims a rocket launcher at someone in his administration.
Come to think of it, there isn’t a whole lot in “White House Down” that we haven’t already seen in other movies. Heck, even its premise — terrorists assume control of the White House, lone Secret Service member comes to the rescue — reeks of something we just sat through a mere three months ago (remember “Olympus Has Fallen”?). It is also the second movie this summer (after “Iron Man 3”) to blow up Air Force One, which makes it the fourth movie this summer to involve a plane (lest you forget “World War Z” and “Fast and Furious 6”). And it’s probably the umpteenth Channing Tatum action movie to prove how good the dude looks in a tank top.
If “White House Down” teaches us anything, it’s that predictability can be used as an asset. Yes, much of what “White House Down” accomplishes has been done to death. This sort of thing dates back as far as the original “Die Hard,” and has been done better many times in the interim. The best anyone can hope for with a new incarnation is an entertaining riff on old material, and “White House Down” has that in spades.
The cast is a big part of the appeal. Tatum assumes his John McClane-type role with the same mix of humor and bravado that Bruce Willis brought to McClane 25 years ago. Jamie Foxx has a lot of fun as the put-upon president who is actually involved in the action. James Woods has his cake and eats it, too, in the token role of the bad guy. And the movie makes good use of Maggie Gyllenhaal, Richard Jenkins and, especially, Jason Clarke, who fought terrorists in “Zero Dark Thirty” but is all about terrorism in “White House Down.”
Should “White House Down” top your summer movie to-see list? Heavens no. It’s more of a guilty pleasure than an out-and-out classic. Still, we are left with one question for Emmerich: Having successfully made rubble of the White House in three of your 10 movies, isn’t it about time to move on to another Washington building like, say, the Internal Revenue Service?
★★½ out of ★★★★
Rated PG-13 for language and virtually non-stop violence. 131 minutes, 2013.
Director: Roland Emmerich. Starring: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx.
Read all of Jesse Hoheisel’s reviews at AFistfulofPopcorn.com.