With the exception of his last film, the unlikely departure ‘Anonymous‘, when you go into a Roland Emmerich movie, you know to only expect two things: Explosions and shoot-outs. As long as that’s all you expect from ‘White House Down’, you might enjoy it.
Channing Tatum leads this large cast as ex-military man John Cale, currently a bodyguard applying for a job with the Secret Service. Divorced, Cale rarely gets to see his 11-year-old daughter, and trying to land this job has cost him more time away from her. In order to make up for lost time and hurt feelings, Cale takes his YouTube-blogging, history-buff daughter with him to his Secret Service interview at the White House. Of course, the interview doesn’t go so well and, before exiting, the White House falls under siege by terrorists. Estranged from his daughter, Cale is faced with a large moral dilemma: Save the President (Jamie Foxx) or save his daughter? Wild and absurd action ensues. There are car chases, aerial attacks, fist-fights a-plenty and shoot-outs galore. At times, ‘White House Down’ plays out as a lone-hero thriller (like ‘Die Hard’). Other times, it’s a buddy movie (more like ‘Die Hard with a Vengeance’). Either way, it’s a ‘Die Hard’ knock-off.
Emmerich’s movies are typically like deli sandwiches – filled with ham and cheese. That aspect of ‘White House Down’ actually feels intentional this time. Some moments have decent comedic timing. Sometimes, the movie deliberately pokes fun at itself, even making a verbal reference to another Emmerich film. Some of the action is so blatantly dumb and over-the-top that there’s no mistaking it for being played straight. But therein lays the movie’s biggest fault. No matter if you’re entertained and laughing with it or not, ‘White House Down’ is absolutely stupid. Not only does it cram in the typical action movie clichés, they’re all done in the most idiotic fashion possible. It becomes difficult to say whether you’re laughing with the movie or at it – most likely a combination of both.
Tatum and Foxx aren’t great, but nobody going to see ‘White House Down’ really expects them to be. Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Woods and Richard Jenkins (who are all usually fantastic actors) play it a little too seriously. The only time that the serious acting is used well is with the intimidating villains played by Jason Clarke (‘The Chicago Code’) and Kevin Rankin (Devil from ‘Justified’). The only villain that’s superbly and fittingly zany is played by one of the McPoyles from ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’.
If you can find fun in even the dumbest of action movies (intentionally so or not), ‘White House Down’ is for you. The movie has a heavy dose of planned cheesiness, wild action and plenty of ka-boom within its unnecessarily complicated plot.