It takes almost exactly a half hour for the first explosion to go off in White House Down.
And from there, none of us are safe.
Washington, D.C., is under attack — the White House, to be exact — and it’s up to a down-on-his-luck wannabe Secret Service agent in a tank top to save the day and restore order to the People’s House.
Wait a second, didn’t we just see this movie? Indeed we did. March’s Olympus Has Fallen told a similar story. But imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and great minds think alike, right?
In White House Down, Channing Tatum stars as John Cale, a U.S. Capitol Police officer, who visits the White House with his daughter for a job interview, and winds up in the wrong place at the wrong time when domestic terrorists (including one played by Jason Clarke, from Zero Dark Thirty) take over the building.
The President is played by Django himself, Jamie Foxx, in a not-too-subtle nod to our current POTUS. (It’s not just his race. Among other similarities, this President has Nicorette in his nightstand and a beautiful wife, and he’s frustrated by his need to be a politician and not a man of action.)
Given that White House Down was directed by Roland Emmerich — director of such cinematic “classics” as Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012 — it’s almost pointless to expect the movie to be more than some snazzy special effects and silly lapses in logic and plausibility, with some unsubtle allusions to the current political situation thrown in for good measure. And indeed, from the way the Capitol gets blow’d up, to the President Obama references, to the fact that James Woods plays a father angry about his son having died in the war in Afghanistan, to the fact that the media and innocent bystanders are standing just feet away from all the action, right in harm’s way, White House Down certainly has what you’d expect from this kind of movie.
But this isn’t even a good Roland Emmerich movie. Predictably, the screenplay (by James Vanderbilt) is lame — it’s filled with plenty of intended laugh lines like when the President fights off a bad guy and exclaims, “Get your hands off my Jordans,” and a bunch of others that make you laugh unintentionally — and the acting isn’t strong either. Foxx is not in the least bit convincing as the President. Is he a tough guy? Is he a smarty? Is he all urban cool? The actor and director never do decide.
More disappointing is the fact that the effects aren’t up to Emmerich standards; there are lots of explosions and a ton of gunplay, but I wanted to see more of the usual kind of Emmerich destruction, like the Washington Monument falling over, the Lincoln Memorial being blown to bits, or the White House completely on fire.
At times, the film is so laughable, so bombastic, so horribly acted and written, so implausible, and so lame that you’d think Emmerich might be making a parody of such over-the-top action films. And yet, the film isn’t even over the top enough to be a very good parody.
As Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character might say, White House Down needs a bit more “caffeine and patriotism.” Those qualities are exactly what Olympus Has Fallen had plenty of. That Die Hard wannabe wasn’t great, either, but it was a big, patriotic, testosterone-fuled action fest, the kind of movie a July 4th–weekend release that’s set in Washington should be.
If you’ve already seen the previous President-in-Danger flick, you can skip this one. And if you haven’t, well … skip this one anyway.
I’m giving White House Down a C–.
Who is your favorite on-screen President? Would you vote for Jamie Foxx? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.