With Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, James Woods. Written by James Vanderbilt. Directed by Roland Emmerich. Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action and violence including intense gunfire and explosions, some language and a brief sexual image. 131 minutes.
All the critics who mocked those of us who showed love for “Olympus Has Fallen” in March are going to have an even tougher time with WHITE HOUSE DOWN. The cast and the plot details have changed, but it’s essentially the same story: the White House has been taken over by an outside force and one man takes on the job of defeating them and saving the President and preserving the American Way.
This time around, it’s veteran and Capitol police officer John Cale (Channing Tatum) who would just love to be a Secret Service agent. However, he has a record as a bit of a screw-up and his chances don’t look good. On the day while he takes his daughter, who idolizes President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx), on a White House tour, there is a bombing at the Capitol. This turns out to be a diversion for the real plot in which domestic extremists take over the White House with inside assistance.
No major plot points to be given away here except the fact that it is all so utterly ludicrous. The terrorists take out most of the Secret Service, the U.S. military, and the local police force with ease, but somehow always just miss hitting Cale. As with the earlier film there are turncoats, a desire to access the secret White House bunker to launch nuclear missiles, and a tutorial on the line of Presidential succession. For those coming late (or those whose recall of high school history class has decayed in the ensuing years), you need to know that next in line are the Vice President (Michael Murphy) and the Speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins).
“Olympus” was preposterous but entertaining the way the TV show “24” was entertaining. It had just enough plausibility that you didn’t question the details. Here, under the direction of Roland Emmerich (“Independence Day,” “2012”), realism is the first casualty. For those who are politically savvy, it is tempting to see this as a metaphor for present day Washington with the black President opposed by the conservative Speaker, and a right-wing talk show host as one of the hostages, but that would be giving the film far too much credit. If “Olympus” was like the book you bring to the beach, this is like a comic book. No, that’s not fair… to comic books. Some graphic novels are well-written and intelligently plotted.
Foxx and Tatum have fun in their roles, and what pleasures the film offers comes from their by-play, but most of the cast–including James Woods and Maggie Gyllenhaal as CIA officials and Lance Reddick as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff–rush through their absurd dialogue as if rushing to get out of the way of a falling piano. Indeed, audiences may have much the same reaction. It’s a diverting enough ride, but “White House Down” is not the sort of movie you’ll enjoy having to admit publicly that you’ve seen.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He teaches at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.