The 2013 film White House Down, directed by Roland Emmerich and starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx, is an action packed movie about an assault on the White House by a group of right-wing militarists. When Capitol policemen and Afghan veteran John Cale (Channing Tatum) is denied his dream job of joining the Secret Service by Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal) he decides to take his daughter, Emily (Joey King), on a tour of the presidential mansion. It is at this point that the building is seized by the aforementioned heavily armed paramilitaries, leaving Cale to save the president, his daughter, and America itself.
Two questions compete for your attention throughout the film. The first is whether the militarists will indeed manage to assassinate the African-American POTUS (Jamie Foxx) who has recently made peace overtures to the Middle East. The second is whether Cale be able to convince his adolescent daughter that he’s a hero. These two plot lines have equal weight, although they are intertwined relatively well (emphasis on relatively) for an Emmerich movie.
The characters perform just as decently as you'd expect. Channing Tatum really plays Channing Tatum well, as usual presented as a shade more personable and intelligent than his looks would otherwise suggest. He is helped along by his daughter, who often inspires him to action more than the terrorists. Jamie Foxx, on the other hand, is a truly watered down Jamie Foxx, playing a likeable and mild mannered president (clearly modelled on Obama). The better performances are all supporting roles: Nicolas Wright as the White House tour guide who plays host to both terrorists and their hostages, Kevin Rankin as a particularly deranged terrorist, and Jimmi Simpson as the superhacker who takes over the White House computers.
In true Emmerich fashion, the lead characters tend to loiter for long personnal moments, no matter how close the terrorists or Armageddon itself are. While this may be acceptable in some of the other movies he has directed (like The Day After Tomorrow or 2012), in White House Down it really seems as though the lead characters can stop time whenever they feel like fostering an emotional connection. It gets so ridiculous at some points that one begins to wonder whether the film is actually begging its audience to yell advice at the screen. Once again, Emmerich's obsession with trying to set himself apart from other disaster/action movie directors by including emotionality results in a clunkily paced but inadvertently entertaining adventure.
In addition, this particular subgenre allows little room for variety; if you've watched Olympus Has Fallen, you've basically watched White House Down. However, the latter, unlike the former, is strictly PG-13, surprisingly family friendly for a movie about people getting gunned down and blown up. While this doesn't help the movie, Emmerich manages to salvage the situation slightly by blowing up a wide variety of national monuments, and even manages to get away with a car and tank chase around the Capitol's lawn.
Overall, White House Down's combination of uninspiring characters, inappropriate personal moments and family friendly action result in a movie that scrapes by as decent but not worth watching. While on the subject of not watching movies, don't go see Olypus Has Fallen either; instead just stay clear of this subgenre entirely.
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