The White House is under attack. Flames bellow from the Oval Office as armed militia storm one of the most iconic and important symbols of America, shooting anyone in a suit in their path. The American people and the surviving members of the cabinet watch in horror as the country teeters on the brink of disaster. Itâ€™s up to one man to fight the assault and save the President: a wannabe Secret Service agent played by hunky star Gerard Butler.
Wait â€¦ hold on a second. Sorry, it seems Iâ€™ve mixed up my "Olympus Has Fallen" notes from a couple months ago with my "White House Down" notes. Letâ€™s try this again: The White House is under attack, and itâ€™s up to one man (Channing Tatum) to fight the assault, save the President and convince potential viewers that no, this isnâ€™t just a more expensive version of the same movie they saw three months ago.
Itâ€™s too bad "White House Down" will always be considered the knock-off (they both began filming last July), because itâ€™s also easily the more entertaining of the two.
Tatum plays the all-American everyday hero with the action movie-approved name John Cale. In the middle of a failed job interview and White House tour with his history buff daughter (Joey King, who played the young Talia al Ghul in "The Dark Knight Rises"), a group of terrorists take over the building and plot to capture the President. A silver-haired James Woods plays the mastermind; Jason Clarke from "Zero Dark Thirty" is his steely second-in-command.
Luckily, Tatum does his best John McClane impression (he even strips down from his GQ-approved, undone top button suit and tie to a white wifebeater) and intervenes, saving the peace-seeking Commander-in-Chief, played by Jamie Foxx. With escape impossible, the two team up to fight the terrorists as James Vanderbiltâ€™s script turns into a "Die Hard"-buddy cop lovechild (so "Die Hard with a Vengeance"), with Tatum playing the action savvy hero and Foxx as the stodgy, peace-seeking partner.
Even the most peace-loving of presidents, however, can get pushed too far, leading to, yes, repeatedly kicking a terrorist for touching his Jordans.
Itâ€™s silly, but unlike its predecessor, "White House Down" owns its silliness. The movie knows the concept of the White House getting taken over is audience pandering and frankly preposterous (youâ€™d think the White House would be prepared for the "sneak-in-as-janitors" approach). So instead of playing it straight, they have fun, adding some much-needed humor and personality in between the exciting explosions and rehashed action movie clichĂ©s. And there are plenty of both.
Thereâ€™s a big, ominous red-numbered countdown clock. Thereâ€™s a punchably smug villainous techie and a heavy that looks like a skinnier version of Bennett from "Commando."
All of the characters are pretty much types. The down-on-his-luck hero/father, the noble figurehead, the exhausted ex-wife (barely worth mentioning) and the cocky military head who midway through the movie makes a dumb decision despite everyone knowing itâ€™s a bad idea all make their scheduled appearances.
Vanderbilt and disaster-happy director Roland Emmerich ("2012," "Independence Day") follow the "Die Hard" playbook pretty closely, and when theyâ€™re not pulling from that â€™80s classic, theyâ€™re copying Emmerichâ€™s own tried-and-true blockbuster formula.
This was the same problem with "Olympus Has Fallen," but itâ€™s amazing what a little charisma and energy can do for a movie. While its older sibling simply took the bare bones outline from its obvious inspiration, "White House Down" adapts its structure and its spirit. As a result, it plays less like a bland rip-off and more like an enthusiastically entertaining throwback.
Even though heâ€™s been scaled back from having the entire globe as his explosive plaything to a single building, Emmerich still stages several satisfying adrenaline-fueled gunfights and fireballs. It is PG-13, but the action is still gleefully destructive, tense and exciting.
Most importantly, he has a likeable lead duo that is a lot of fun together. Tatum and Foxx arenâ€™t exactly extraordinary actors, but theyâ€™re above-average movie stars with above-average buddy chemistry on screen. They make Vanderbiltâ€™s good banter and quips pop, and his dopier lines, uh, less dopey (Foxx canâ€™t do too much with some of his characterâ€™s finger-pointing speeches against the military-industrial complex, which sound like they were pulled from a very special episode of "Captain Planet").
Theyâ€™re clearly having fun, and I did too, even if my brain kind of hated me for it afterward. If "Olympus Has Fallen" was the rote, by-the-books first part of a Fourth of July fireworks show, then "White House Down" is the grand finale, with everything thrown into the air and blown up in the name of mindless entertainment.Â Â
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