White House Down is one of those movies that makes you feel dumber every second you’re watching it and thanks to its two-hour plus run time, you’ll be back to a second grade reading level by the time the end credits mercifully arrive.
After interviewing for a Secret Service position, Capitol policeman John Cale (Channing Tatum, given a chance to be more of an action hero here than in two G.I. Joe movies) accompanies his estranged daughter, Emily (Joey King, Oz the Great and Powerful), on a White House tour.
The day goes horrifically wrong when a paramilitary group, led by disgruntled staffer Walker (James Woods) and Stenz (Jason Clarke, The Great Gatsby), invade the White House and kidnap President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx, Django Unchained).
Cale tries to find Emily, but instead stumbles into rescuing Sawyer, leading to an unlikely action-buddy team-up adventure. The pair attempt to prevent a national catastrophe with the assistance of Secret Service agent Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Dark Knight). Thankfully, Gen. Caulfield (Lance Reddick, Won’t Back Down) and Eli Raphelson (Richard Jenkins, Killing Them Softly), the Speaker of the House, are on hand to question every move Cale makes despite being the only one on the inside trying to save Sawyer.
WHD is the second movie this year imagining a terrorist assault on the White House following the silly, but surprising box office hit Olympus Has Fallen. Olympus was basically Die Hard at the White House, and stuck to basic action guidelines. WHD screenwriter James Vanderbilt (The Amazing Spider-Man) is fine switching the film up every other scene to be a straightforward adventure, an overindulgent Michael Bay-style action comedy or a tense political thriller.
Vanderbilt’s inconsistencies extend to the characters as well. He wants us to root for Emily, but she’s written to desperately be an audience favorite and King tries too hard to be the plucky sidekick. Stenz shifts from psychotic to calculating genius depending on the scene.
Roland Emmerich, the director more famous for blowing up national landmarks instead of making any good movies since 1996’s Independence Day, isn’t in danger of ending his streak here and it’s easy to imagine him being ticked that Olympus spoiled all of his big blowing up D.C. monument moments. At least he’s got the presidential car vs. a tank on the White House front lawn all to himself …
Emmerich is like a Bay disciple in that he’s all about the imagery and making a scene look cool — like the helicopters sweeping by the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool or destroying the US Capitol — instead of just having them make sense.
Subtlety is a word dirtier than logic to Emmerich as everything has to be done to the most obnoxious extreme.
Bigger and louder is his trademark, which isn’t the ideal pairing for Vanderbilt’s more character-centric script that leaves the movie lacking on both fronts.
Tatum and Foxx, bless them, seem convinced they’re in a far better film and when they’re onscreen they convince you to go along with the lunacy. They have an intriguing chemistry with a solid give-and-take dynamic better suited for a buddy action film like Bad Boys. Then Emmerich goes and ruins it by dragging them into another ridiculous situation, but unlike the White House, there’s simply no saving this movie.
Double down on a Die Hard and Air Force One marathon as this second take of D.C. destruction isn’t worth your financial endorsement.
Rating: 2 out of 10