Roland Emmerich keeps the dream of the ‘90s blockbuster alive in this no-fluff action flick.
It can hardly be said that White House Down is a great film, or even a great popcorn movie. The plot is thin and ridiculous at best, the acting is fine but nothing to write home about but it does pack a lot of action. And not the type of action most are accustomed to in 2013. There’s no aliens or mutants, no fight scenes in space, and especially no giant fighting robots. It’s refreshing. It shouldn’t be, but it is. With the budgets for blockbusters ballooning to beyond epic proportions, as well as the films themselves, there’s some sort of relief to see a film that doesn’t try to hide an epic mentality behind its blatant carnage. Really, it embodies the quintessential notion of a blockbuster or popcorn-film, or the guilty pleasure.
This adrenaline rush stars Channing Tatum as John Cale, a police officer who’s looking to move up the ladder. Specifically, he wants to work for the Secret Service but is rejected by Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal) for not really having the greatest resume to back up. His daughter Emily (Joey King) is along for the ride because she’s a politics junkie and is dying to see the inside of the White House. Things take a turn during the tour following Cale’s rejection as the White House is attacked and taken hostage.
While the plot isn’t anything that can be figured out halfway through the movie, there are a few twists and turns that are best left to surprise. What isn’t a secret is that the terrorists are actually Americans, despite news reports that obviously blame those of Arab descent. It’s a cute departure from the films that it’s obviously indebted to, once whose villains were most probably Eastern European or Arab. It’s a fun jab at conservative America, and also at mostly unused blind spot in American domestic terrorism — where those from the Middle East are immediately faulted. But, of course, that’s only a small aspect of the film and doesn’t make or break it.
Once the takeover happens Cale is separated from Emily and while on the lookout for her comes across President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) and falls into the role of his protector. It’s a fun dynamic as Tatum turns on the charm ,and even his humorous side highlighted in 21 Jump Street from time to time, while Foxx gets to play the idealistic President that lacks combat training (a charge leveled at him early on during his controversial act to pull out all troops from the Middle East). From there on out it’s basically a battle littered with character moments, mainly about Cale’s search for and relationship with his daughter and Foxx’s with his Presidential Head of Detail Martin Walker (James Woods), all while attempting to bring down the bad guys led by Emil Stenz (Jason Clarke).
It’s a fun ride with enough likeability, especially Foxx and Cale, and nostalgia of films that understood they had no deeper purpose than to entertain that it mostly works in the same vein. It isn’t a movie that will become a benchmark for the genre, nor one that has enough substance to truly break out of the mold, but for a light-hearted, summer movie there have been, and will be, much worse.