moviebuff801: White House Down Review

Posted: July 9, 2013 by moviebuff801 in Uncategorized

If, like me, you saw the trailers and TV spots for White House Down and thought to yourself, “How many times can Roland Emmerich destroy this place?” or even “Didn’t this movie already come out earlier this year?”, odds are that your expectations weren’t too high.  Emmerich has an uncanny ability for that, doesn’t he?  Well, folks, I’m here today to report what, before now, I had thought to be an impossibility: White House Down is the first of Roland Emmerich’s big-budget films that does what I thought no other big-budget Roland Emmerich film besides The Patriot could do, and that is it entertained me.  And here I thought the likes of 10,000 B.C., Godzilla, and Stargate were the “best” we were going to get from him when he wasn’t laying siege to the entire world.

As the title implies, White House Down chronicles a what-if scenario where hostile forces overtake the central hub of our nation’s Capitol.  We follow Capitol police officer John Cale (Channing Tatum), whose assignment is protection detail for the Speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins).  But Cale is also a divorced father with a precocious 11 year-old daughter named Emily (Joey King), and rather than her dad, Emily’s hero in life is President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx).  That provides even more incentive for Cale to apply for a job in the Secret Service, because he figures if he can’t be Emily’s hero, then he can at least protect the man who is.  Cale even takes Emily along with him for his interview with Special Agent Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who happens to be an old college friend of Cale’s as well as someone who firmly believes Cale isn’t suitable Secret Service material.  But before Cale and Emily can leave, armed mercenaries overtake the White House (and rather easily, I might add) at the behest and with the assistance of the Head of Presidential Detail Martin Wheeler (James Woods).  And, no, that’s not a spoiler because from the moment Wheeler is introduced, the movie hints heavily at his impending betrayal.  Soon after the siege, Cale and Emily become separated, and as Cale desperately tries to find his daughter, he finds himself responsible for the safety of President Sawyer.  From there, Cale and Sawyer fight off an endless slew of bad guys, led by Emil Stenz (Jason Clarke), as they try to stop Wheeler’s plan of severely crippling the U.S. government.

What works best about White House Down is its tone.  This movie is a very entertaining throwback to the kinds of B movies we would see in the 90’s.  But unlike films such as the first Expendables and this year’s The Last Stand, there are no 80’s or 90’s action stars in here to continually make jokes about how old they’ve gotten while practically winking at the camera.  Instead, White House Down has the much younger Channing Tatum at its center, and benefits from it because it can just let him be an action hero without the constant sly nods.  On the other hand, James Vanderbilt’s script is as much a star here as Tatum.  By no means whatsoever is this screenplay subtle, thought-provoking or anything else resembling a higher caliber.  What it is, though, is clever, fast-paced and just a whole hell of a lot of fun.  Vanderbilt clearly cares about making an entertaining action picture in the tradition of the more enjoyable dumb action movies from the mid-to-late 90’s, and you know what?  I really dug that vibe.  Whereas the rest of Roland Emmerich’s blow-em-up blockbusters feature scripts where the clichés weigh everything down and take away from the fun factor, White House Down is the exact opposite.  Yes, it’s heavily clichéd, but the fun factor is too strong to really care too much about it.

On average, I’ve never really been a fan of Channing Tatum, but with White House Down, I can sort of see why he has such a following.  In this movie, he really does have the level of charm and general kickassery that’s really needed to sell this kind of material.  In fact, I’d even say Tatum is far more entertaining in this movie than he was in the much too overrated 21 Jump Street.  He’s funnier here, too.   Part of that is owed to the really fun chemistry he shares with co-star Jamie Foxx which, again, is in the tradition of the better buddy pairings of the 90’s.  Between the two of them, there’s plenty of funny quips and one-liners, but also that mutual respect without endless bickering that makes said pairing even more enjoyable.  Tatum and Foxx really do a good job of carrying this movie, something I was a little hesitant about before seeing the film, but was happy to be proven wrong about.

Concurrently, the rest of the cast do as well as they need to.  Roland Emmerich has always been able to assemble big casts for his films, and White House Down is no exception.  The supporting cast includes likes of James Woods, Richard Jenkins, Jason Clarke, Maggie Gyllenhaal and quite a few recognizable TV actors.  As written, none of these roles require much depth or subtlety, but each actor still manages to be as good as the genre requires them to be.  In particular, both James Woods and Jason Clarke make for entertaining villains.  Not to mention, it’s pretty neat seeing all these actors in the same film.

But enough about the acting, how’s the action in White House Down?  Well, just like the rest of Roland Emmerich’s big-budget efforts, the action is intense, fun and present throughout.  It’s really the camaraderie between the main stars that helps us be entertained by it, though.  Emmerich and Vanderbilt know just how well and how often to diffuse the tension with some good laughs, and Tatum and Foxx make sure they sell those laughs.  It all comes back to the tone, though.  This is the first of Emmerich’s blockbusters, besides the more serious The Patriot, where the humor works and thus compliments the action.  The action itself is surprisingly enjoyable because of not only that, but also because the stunt work, gunfire, hand-to-hand combat and general intensity is well-done.  White House Down is one of those rare occasions where the action is exciting, rather than perfunctory.

In all honesty, I’m actually glad White House Down ended up being as entertaining as it did.  By no definition is it high art, but it’s still one of those “good bad movies.”  It’s incredibly ridiculous and over-the-top, yet for the first time ever, Roland Emmerich has made an entertaining B movie that I feel won’t age as badly as, say, Independence Day.  It’s also the most fun I’ve had watching him decimate the White House.  The true key to these types of movies is charm mixed with genuine excitement, and White House Down has plenty of each to go around.


  1. CMrok93 says:

    Stupid to a fault, but still fun if you allow it’s idiocy to take over your brain. Good review.

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