After Olympus Has Fallen and now White House Down, if there’s one thing we’ve learned at the movies it’s that the safest and most protected house in the country is anything but.
It was only a matter of weeks since we saw the nation’s home to the most powerful man in the western world go up in flames, and now we’re seeing it again, only this time it’s a lot more entertaining. If there’s one thing director Roland Emmerich can do and do it well is make a disaster in every sense of the word and make it look great.
The story is preposterous – we all know that – and the fact that we know that the whole thing is total nonsense is what raises its popcorn value in entertainment. To approach White House Down in any other way is to do the film and yourself a disservice.
The film takes thirty minutes to set things up before the action kicks in. During that time, all roles are easily defined. Channing Tatum is the good guy dad who struggles to build a relationship with his young daughter while trying – and failing – to get a job as a security guard at the White House. Jamie Fox is the good guy president who wants to make radical changes to U.S. foreign policy in order to bring peace to the world. “All U.S. troops will be removed from the Middle East,” he declares on TV. And James Woods is the bad guy head of the White House Secret Service. You know he’s the bad guy because on his last day of work before retirement he tells his wife,” It’s going to be a long day,” then adds with a meaningful expression, “I love you.” He’s bad because you instinctively know he’s not the kind of guy to say something like that unless he’s not coming back, plus, well – he’s James Woods.
There’s an initial sense of familiarity to the film as the lone hero who knows how to handle himself finds he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. Obviously there’s going to be a comparison with the recent Olympus – that’s unavoidable considering they’re basically the same film – but it’s the whole Die Hard formula that has become overly familiar. When Emmerich made his disaster film to end all disaster films, 2012, he announced it was going to be his last, which is why he went all out. After that exercise in total world annihilation there’s no need to ever see or film another; we’ve literally seen it all. Now he’s done the same with Die Hard, even though this is technically not a Die Hard feature: After the gloriously, over-the-top perils of seeing what happens when you attack the President’s Palace, there’s now no need for another, ever; I think we’ve now seen it all.
“Who is he?” asks one of Woods’ bad guy henchmen as their plans to take control are thwarted at every corner. “Probably some schmuck from the tour,” responds Woods. Only, of course, he’s not some schmuck from the tour, he’s Channing Tatum, a highly trained body guard who would rather be at home in front of the TV but who just happens to be at the White House when the takeover begins. If White House Down does anything, it proves that rising star Tatum is now officially a major player in ‘A’ list movies.
Besides the action, which is edge-of-your-seat solid and exciting, the film has good humor and riffs on itself. When Donnie the tour guide (a funny Nicolas Wright) explains during the White House tour that the building they are standing in is “…The one that got blown up in Independence Day,” you know no one’s taking this thing seriously. And later, when handed a gun, Donnie cocks his weapon and announces to everyone around him with a determined tough-guy demeanor, “Tour over!”
If you put all reason and logic aside and allow the malarkey to unfold without question, White House Down is going to work for you. It’s that sort of film. If you question everything with a that-could-never-happen attitude, you’re going to spoil the fun for yourself. Obviously it could never happen. It’s dumb. And considering that the film is hardly intended to be anything other than an unabashed piece of twaddle to get you cheering the hero and have you hoping that the bad guy’s demise is really, satisfyingly nasty, just go with the flow. You’ll enjoy it a whole lot more.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 137 minutes Overall Rating: 7 (out of 10)