In “White House Down,” the new Roland Emmerich scorchfest, the director, who last blew up the White House in 1996’s “Independence Day,” lives up to his big budget blow ‘em up reputation. Nicknamed “Master of Disaster” he’s never met a monument he didn’t want to destroy.
Whether it be bad weather à la “The Day After Tomorrow” or a worldwide cataclysm as in his global warming epic “2012,” the director can’t seem to stop himself from trashing beloved landmarks.
The White House is in his sights in the new film. Channing Tatum plays John Cale, a divorced father of one who desperately wants to impress his brainiac daughter Emily (Joey King) by getting a job as security for the President of the United States (Jamie Fox).
On the day of his Secret Service job interview—daughter in tow—some very bad men (there will be no spoilers here!) invade the White House, disabling the security forces and gaining control of the president’s home.
Separated from his daughter, John gets some on the job the job training as he becomes POTUS’ defacto guard while shooting, stabbing and fisticuffing his way to his daughter’s rescue.
Unlike the virtually identical “Olympus Has Fallen,” the Gerard Butler White House disaster flick that opened earlier this year, “White House Down” spends a lot of time introducing its characters. There’s half-an-hour or so of setup in the sprawling hundred-and-thirty-seven minute movie, which is twenty-nine minutes more than we got in Butler’s film.
People talk—like the overworked secret service agent (Maggie Gyllenhaal) to her high-ranking boss (James Woods) on his last day—and talk—like the ex-wife (Rachelle Lefevre) to John who says things like, “I can’t think of a more important job than protecting the president.”—and talk—like the White House tour guide (Nicolas Wright) on the history of the building—and talk—like the Speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins) to his guards (Mat Craven) and anyone else who will listen. It goes on for a while and none of it is terribly interesting.
Then the dome blows off the White House and Emmerich’s genius for making things go boom comes into play.
From this point on it’s an action movie, although a talkier one than usual–characters say awesome things like, “That’s President Sawyer, and he has a rocket launcher!”–and millions of bullets are expended.
Once the going gets wild the pace picks up which makes the first half an hour feel even more superfluous. The characters are standard action movie types so the prologue doesn’t do much except add half-an-hour to the running time. Going in we know pretty much how all these characters are going to behave so we don’t need the protracted introduction.
Foxx brings a few laughs to his impression of Obama and shares good chemistry with Tatum, who flexes and fights like a true action star. Emmerick tosses in a few other character arcs–like a Fox News reporter who turns into a crybaby when the going gets tough–but by and large the folks in the film are straight out of the director’s usual playbook.
“White House Down” is bigger in scale than “Olympus Has Fallen,” but sometimes less is more. This is enjoyable enough, like a presidential “Die Hard,” but a streamlined approach, as in Butler’s film, might have been more fun.