That self-congratulatory moment is a good way to describe White House Down as a whole; it’s very proud of itself. The movie wastes no time and expense telling the audience how trendy, patriotic, action-packed, and awesome it is. The only problem is that it’s trying to convince the audience that is all these things, rather than actually being them.
The film centers on John Cale (Channing Tatum), an underemployed member of the Capitol Police interviewing at the White House for a Secret Service job he’s never going to get. Along for the ride is his 11-year-old daughter (Joey King). When all hell breaks loose and the White House is attacked, Cale is primed and ready to protect President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx). Elsewhere is Secret Service agent Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal), for some reason running the outside efforts to take back the White House.
What follows is bombastic and often incredibly patronizing, and at times a lot of fun. The movie is definitely funny. Foxx is a little too cool for how nerdy the President is supposed to be, but he and Tatum have good chemistry and timing. However, it’s sometimes too flippant in light of the death and destruction involved with the battle inside the White House. I found myself wondering if the duo wouldn’t have been better in a buddy cop film with lower stakes. The jokes are generic enough to work in that context too.
Set in the home of the leader of the free world, White House Down is bursting at the seams with charged politics, yet never ventures anywhere near commentary. A mishmash of ideologies is presented for the good guys and the bad, almost removing politics from the equation. For a disaster movie so specific, about the occupation of one particular building, it’s incredibly generic.
White House Down will inevitably draw comparisons to Olympus Has Fallen, the other movie about an attack on the White House that premiered this year. But this film is more akin to Emmerich plagiarizing himself than anything else. Like in Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, it’s the big picture but with a personal story, it’s full of plot holes, it’s funny, it’s cheesy, and it features lots and lots of destruction. And that’s really all there is to it.
White House Down opens today in Philly area theaters.