Combustible Celluloid
Own it:
Search for Posters
Search for streaming:
NetflixHuluGoogle PlayGooglePlayCan I
With: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Richard Jenkins, Joey King, James Woods, Nicolas Wright, Jimmi Simpson, Michael Murphy, Rachelle Lefevre, Lance Reddick, Matt Craven, Jake Weber, Peter Jacobson
Written by: James Vanderbilt
Directed by: Roland Emmerich
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action and violence including intense gunfire and explosions, some language and a brief sexual image
Running Time: 131
Date: 06/28/2013

White House Down (2013)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

White-Knuckle 'House'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

After surprising us for once with the thoughtful, entertaining Anonymous, director Roland Emmerich has -- with White House Down -- gone back to making his usual noisy, explosive, brain-dead movies.

White House Down is yet another take on the old Die Hard formula, with more than a few nods to the fun Air Force One (1997) and to Emmerich's own Independence Day (1996). But surprisingly, and perhaps because of -- and in comparison to -- this summer's selection of dull blockbusters, White House Down isn't too bad.

Where once Emmerich's clunky directing style made his action and suspense scenes pathetic and unwatchable, he's now an old veteran and newer and more inept filmmakers have stepped up to take his place. Compared to recent efforts by J.J. Abrams, Zack Snyder, and Marc Forster, Emmerich's bumbling looks halfway decent.

He's also blessed with a leading man, Channing Tatum, who is a good deal more competent than some of the bland pretty boys that have been passed off as movie stars lately. Tatum was once also bland and pretty until someone discovered that he had a sense of humor and allowed him to use it. He has a good teammate in Jamie Foxx, another actor who is sometimes "serious" (and Oscar-winning) but is also better when allowed to be funny.

Tatum plays John Cale, a former military man who wishes to join the Secret Service and meanwhile waits out his days minding the Speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins) in Washington D.C. Foxx plays none other than the President of the United States (James Sawyer). On a seemingly ordinary day, the President returns home after meetings in the Middle East, attempting to pass a radical peace treaty and end all the conflict over there.

John has landed a job interview with agent Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal). He brings along his daughter, Emily (Joey King), who is a nut for all things Presidential. He doesn't get the job, but he decides to take Emily on a tour of the White House anyway.

Meanwhile, Martin Walker (James Woods) is the head of the Presidential detail of the Secret Service. It's his last day, and his co-workers throw him a little going away party. He sends Carol home for the day. It's at this point that a terrorist attacks the Capitol Building, and another team of terrorists begins shooting up the White House. John tries to find Emily, who has gone to the bathroom, and instead finds and rescues the President.

The rest of the movie is then a cat-and-mouse game, with John and James hiding and fighting, joking around with one another, and revealing secrets to each other. The bad guys, led by renegade Stenz (Jason Clarke), shoot thousands of rounds at John, miss, and then curse and rage at the heavens. There are a few big set pieces -- such as when the good guys manage to steal a bullet-proof limo and break out of the building, but then fail to escape the gated grounds -- and showdowns/standoffs.

All in all, it's not terribly different from many other movies, including one released just a few months ago, Olympus Has Fallen (which I did not see). White House Down is pretty long and contains a few really annoying moments, mainly a comic relief tour guide and a loony computer hacker who is designed to be aggravatingly arrogant so that you want to punch him. But overall, it moves pretty well, and doesn't take itself too seriously.

What really sets it apart, however, is its bizarre way of tapping into both right-wing and left-wing fantasies. Many right-wingers fantasize about their being homes invaded so that they can use (and justify) their arsenal of guns, and screenwriter James Vanderbilt has created the ultimate home invasion for their vicarious amusement. Likewise, we get a "weak," liberal president who quotes "the pen is mightier than the sword" and then learns to "be a man," pick up a gun, and fight.

On the other side, some of the terrorists are actually described as right-wing nut-jobs, bent on destroying the president because of the color of his skin. And one of the hostages is a Rush Limbaugh-like right-wing radio personality who is shown to be a weak buffoon in the face of actual danger. Finally, even though the president nuts up, he also sticks to his original peace-oriented ideals in the end. Also, part of the plot hinges on the fact that too many American corporations are making too much money from the conflict in the Middle East for it to be shut down. They oppose any peace plans and use their financial might to influence politics.

I guess this duality is a canny way of appealing to a wide audience. Liberals can fantasize about a black president that actually makes decisions and follows through, and conservatives can hope that he learns to "see the light" -- or face the consequences.

Either way, I doubt anyone will pay much attention to any political ideas in White House Down, any more than they did in the other fictitious president movies The American President, Independence Day, or Air Force One. They're going to be rooting for the good guys over the bad guys, and it's clear enough who is who. Until a smarter (or better-directed) summer entertainment comes along, White House Down is an okay popcorn muncher.

Hulu Castle Rock SVOD