President Sawyer: You think I don’t know about sacrifice working this job? How many people come to your house trying to kill you?
WHITE HOUSE DOWN, the latest destruction-heavy bombast by Roland Emmerich, is just an absolute delight. Now, I know that might seem slightly out of context considering this is a movie about a wannabe secret service agent protecting the president from a terrorist plot that has over taken the White House. I assure you though, every moment of this spectacle is truly delectable, a feast for all who love unabashed excess and unapologetic ridiculousness.
There could be no better time in Channing Tatum’s career for him to play this character. Arguably one of the hottest properties in Hollywood right now, he must prove his box office prowess and marketability as a major star. What better way to sell him to the American public than have him be seen as a great hero who saves the president (played here by Jamie Foxx) and the country from implosion? Couple that with plenty of scenes where Tatum is either wet or sweaty or, better yet, just plain shirtless, and the man practically becomes a demi-god.
John Cale (Tatum) has everything brilliantly lined up for him in James Vanderbilt’s bewildering screenplay (I could never really tell whether he knew what he was writing was actually hysterical or whether he meant for us to take him more seriously). After years of turning his life around, Cale’s scored himself a job interview with the secret service. On this very same day, he brings his daughter, who calls him John and likes the president more than him, to the White House. He also just missed her recital or science fair or something that apparently matters to 11-year-old girls, so he has much to make up for. Before he can though, things go terribly awry.
Thank God that janitor guy blew up the Capital Building. WHITE HOUSE DOWN was dragging its feet to get to the actual action and listening to Foxx try to channel President Obama’s accent is a bit grating. (Note: Foxx is not playing Obama here.) Once Emmerich is finished spelling out every aspect of the terrorist plot that is about to take place and setting up every cliche imaginable for the most dramatic impact possible, he lets the action rip. The guys who are carrying out this plot,which I won’t give away but hardly matters anyway, are pretty unforgiving. There is an abundance of innocent blood spilled and not a single tear shed for them. They are no match for Mr. Tatum though. And the president even gets in on the gun violence too.
WHITE HOUSE DOWN borrows heavily from the lexicon of action-comedy buddy films that have come before it, perhaps most notably, DIE HARD. John Cale is very relatable, an every man who wants to do right but has a hard time doing so. He’s got family problems; he’s got some very angry terrorists to deal with; and he must seamlessly become a super human with unbelievable abilities in order to save the day. This is not to say that WHITE HOUSE DOWN is trying to be DIE HARD, or that it is anywhere near as good, but there is an awareness in WHITE HOUSE DOWN of what came before it and just how ridiculous the genre has become. I half expected Tatum to wink at the camera at some point.
In a time where movie violence is being reevaluated for its influence on audiences, WHITE HOUSE DOWN kicks it up a notch. At times the barrage of gunfire is downright deafening, but then that’s just exacerbated by the sounds of cheers and laughter from the audience. It is borderline cartoonish without ever veering into too spoofy a territory, which allows it to get away with its incessant outlandishness. It also does not hurt that the guy with the gun saving the day looks so well chiseled in his tank top.