‘White House Down’ Movie Review
I must confess: I’m a softy for the self-aware actioners of yesteryear. And White House Down is, if nothing else, an unabashed throwback to decades past when like-minded two-handers took no prisoners at the box office. Birthed out of the studio groupthink that brought us Olympus Has Fallen, White House Down is certainly the broader, more comical of the oft-indistinguishable pair. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel or try to; Director Roland Emmerich has essentially made Die Hard in the White House and openly embraces the fact, braving the heavily trodden terrain with a grin and a wink.
Magic Mike centerfold Channing Tatum eases into John McClane’s shoes (or barefeet?) as John Cale – a divorced, out-of-work veteran, vying for a Secret Service gig and the love of his estranged daughter (Joey King). When a cavalier gang of RPG-toting mercs hijack the White House, Cale’s natural instincts kick into high gear. He’s the only man inside who can escort the Commander in Chief (Jamie Foxx) down subterranean tunnels and up elevator shafts to safety.
Tonally, this explosive romp resembles Michael Bay’s Bad Boys or Emmerich’s first foray into White House-exploding grandiosity, Independence Day. Once again, Emmerich seamlessly marries tongue-in-cheek dialogue with ludicrous implausibility (at one point the POTUS wields a rocket launcher) and keeps us in on the joke from start to finish. Utilizing every tool in his larger-than-life shed, from bazookas to M2’s, Emmerich evokes jaw-dropping 9/11 imagery throughout with no shortage of sweeping helicopter shots. Oh yes, Rotundas will explode, armored cars will swim, and audiences will need Tylenol before all is said and done.
Down‘s story is far from inventive, but barring some pacing issues, the execution is largely effective. Writer James Vanderbilt (The Amazing Spider-Man) injects clever running jokes and lighthearted social commentary throughout for added laughs. Like ours, the head of state is African American. Unlike ours, Foxx’s presidential counterpart embraces ethnic stereotypes, addressing subordinates in a slacked, casual cadence while also dodging enemy fire in a pair of pristine Air Jordans. Politically incorrect? Maybe. But I, for one, couldn’t help but crack a grin at the brazen humor, compounded by Tatum’s incessant struggle to master the transient lingo of our wired-in youth (distinguishing between a blog and vlog proving particularly cumbersome for him). Foxx and Tatum bump, set and spike savvy one-liners with a tit-for-tat rhythm reminiscent of Gibson and Glover in the Lethal Weapon series. Both stars effortlessly ham it up, reveling in the lovable clichés like two pigs in the mud.
Whether in indie fare like A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints or commercial offerings like 21 Jump Street, time and again Tatum connects with moviegoers on a likeable, relatable plane. Granted, Channing’s roles rarely extend beyond his off-screen persona; so the true litmus test is yet to come. Jamie Foxx’s infinite swag naturally serves his Down character well. And their bromance was only strengthened by the film’s capable supporting cast, notably the rock steady Richard Jenkins, James Woods, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Zero Dark Thirty star Jason Clark. The Dark Knight Rises starlet Joey King stays present and compelling as Cale’s inquisitive and burgeoning iReporter daughter, though a handful of scenes undeniably suffer from overacting.
If you can overlook some intrinsic melodrama and stomach the nuclear football once more as the overplayed plot device that it is, you’re in for a rollicking good time with White House Down.
I give it 6.5 out of 10 stars.
White House Down is now out in theaters. You can watch the trailer here.
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