White House Down has the misfortune of coming out three months after the other presidential hijacking movie starring Gerard Butler locked down its opening weekend. Striking the iron the second time usually doesn’t end well, but with Channing Tatum starring and the hit-maker Roland Emmerich behind the camera, it bodes well for the picture.
Whereas Olympus Has Fallen took itself way too seriously, White House Down is well aware of the camp inherent in a mass conspiracy of this scale against the most powerful leader in the free world. Placing Die Hard inside of the Oval Office doesn’t do well when the tone is so dour. You need to have some fun with the premise and that is exactly what White House Down does.
The action kicks off when peace talks leave a lot of people angry with the current administration. President Sawyer’s (a largely underused Jamie Foxx) proposed settlement with Middle Eastern nations didn’t only piss off the arms manufacturers, but conservative groups and white-power pseudo commandos as well. Such is life in the subversive version of Roland Emmerich’s political world.
On that same day capitol policeman John Cale (Channing Tatum) has just failed a job interview with Secret Service. Trying to salvage what is left of the day with his daughter (Joey King), the Cales both take a tour of the White House. The White House is then overtaken by heavily armed forces and this serviceman has two options: spring into action to save his kid and protect the president, or bail as quickly as possible. Given that this is an Emmerich action picture there is really only one option.
Pitting an overmatched member of law enforcement against a horde of terrorists apes Die Hard vibe right down to the Beethoven and the grungy wife-beater. Channing Tatum has the physical swagger and knack for one-liners to convincingly pull off a John McClane, too bad the rest of the film isn’t quite up to snuff.
Even with the political edge of featuring terrorists that aren’t by-the-book religious fundamentalists or perturbed despots, these are some good ole boys trashing the capitol. A point worth mentioning: no one knows their way around playing a prick better than James Woods, which makes it quite the shame when Woods’ prickish turn is wasted by such a middling final product.
What makes this White House movie a drudge to sit through is the overwhelming feeling that Emmerich is just bored with the proceedings. The director already topped himself in terms of destruction with Independence Day so it’s understandable that a majority of the movie feels like it was simply cut and pasted from a 90s blockbuster template. To make matters worse there is an over-abundance of CGI present instead of any practical stunts or model usage. A mediocre actioner like this could be saved, but not when every scene is created in a vfx room.
White House Down had all of the ingredients to make for a entertaining summer throwaway, but a lack of actual effort just makes this one more movie to ignore during the crowded summer season.