Movie review: 'White House Down' is entertaining summer escape
June 28, 2013 8:00 AM
Channing Tatum, left, and Jamie Foxx star in "White House Down."
By Barbara Vancheri Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Takeover of the White House and kidnapping of the U.S. president. Ho-hum, Hollywood. Didn't we see this in March?
Yes, but "Olympus Has Fallen" starring Gerard Butler was R-rated, far bloodier and more violent. "White House Down" is PG-13, pairs Channing Tatum as an aspiring Secret Service agent with Jamie Foxx as the president and throws in a precocious 11-year-old girl, to boot.
It seems bigger in every way including budget and scope, slicker and more mainstream but even more preposterous in terms of the plot and loosey-goosey security in Washington, D.C., landmarks. The leader of this takeover is homegrown and gets not one but two reasons for wanting to watch the world burn.
Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, James Woods, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Richard Jenkins, Joey King.
PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action and violence including intense gunfire and explosions, some language and a brief sexual image.
Mr. Tatum portrays John Cale, a divorced Capitol policeman assigned to the Speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins) but hoping to become a Secret Service agent.
He bounced around before enlisting, serving three tours in Afghanistan and belatedly earning his college degree. Now, he's trying to be a more attentive dad to his daughter, Emily (Joey King, alternately and nicely spunky or terrified).
She is a bright girl who loves politics and is an enthusiastic supporter of President Sawyer (Mr. Foxx). As the story opens, the president has announced a bold and controversial plan to withdraw all American troops from the Mideast and has returned to Washington, D.C., while his wife and daughter remain in Paris.
Cale has called in some favors and landed an interview for the Secret Service with, it turns out, an old classmate (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who does not think highly of him. "I'll start at the bottom. Just give me a chance," he pleads, as she rejects the prospect of him joining the elite team overseen by retiring Martin Walker (James Woods).
When an explosion rocks the Capitol and the White House is taken over by a paramilitary group with guns ablazing, Cale gets the world's most intense unplanned job tryout. He ends up protecting the president, even as he becomes separated from his daughter, who eludes and then attracts the attention of the hostage-takers.
As usually happens in movies such as this, it's not just the fate of the United States that hangs in the balance. Like Brad Pitt in "World War Z," Channing Tatum has to try to save the world.
"White House Down" is from director Roland Emmerich, who gave us "Independence Day," not so coincidentally referenced in the movie by the White House tour guide. The 1996 sci-fi blockbuster had space aliens trying to annihilate Earth during a Fourth of July weekend, and it was shocking, breathtaking and darned entertaining.
Mr. Foxx has to dial back his bravado while Mr. Tatum amps up his action-hero moves crashing through roofs, turfing the White House lawn (with POTUS on board) and trading gunfire or punches with the villains, who include Jason Clarke, most recently the operator of Wilson's Garage in "The Great Gatsby."
Beyond the fact that the takeover will trigger global suicide, "White House Down" suffers from small lapses -- no one bothers to clear the grounds outside the White House as all hell breaks loose, a TV broadcast stupidly puts a hostage in jeopardy, the military is oddly kept at bay even given the presence of trapped tourists and presidential power is transferred with alarming, chaotic speed.
However, at a time when so many movies seem humorless, "White House Down" allows a few laughs. It isn't meant to be examined as Oscar fodder but watched as pure summer entertainment -- escaping into the dark with explosions and nefarious escapades, overchilled air conditioning, overpriced snacks and a heroic Mr. Tatum stripped to his "Magic Mike" undershirt.