White House Down | C
For almost 20 years, director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, 2012) has been making the cinematic equivalent of junk food. Given how unabashedly big, noisy and empty his movies are, Pop Rocks would probably be an apt metaphor. And, really, there’s nothing wrong with that. Movie theaters would crumble into dust if every other release came courtesy Paul Thomas Anderson or Terrence Malick.
Thankfully, Emmerich is not nearly as crass or amoral as Michael Bay, whose films never met a stereotype they didn’t want to embrace — or a woman they didn’t want to molest. Emmerich’s movies are almost quaint in their simple-minded, bombastic attempts to reflect the social and cultural trends of the day, and this time it means Jamie Foxx, playing a Barack Obama simulacrum, computer hackers invading the White House, and disgruntled patriots hoping to wipe Muslims off the face of the globe.
Yup, White House Down is very much in sync with the German-born director’s “more is more” formula for action.
But where films like The Day After Tomorrow and Godzilla played like an extra helping of popcorn for the kids, this nakedly unimaginative riff on Die Hard feels creaky and out of pace with current action movie trends. Emmerich’s style hasn’t changed over the years, and there’s a paint-by-numbers quality to both the writing and filmmaking that drains White House Down of any creative vitality. Which doesn’t mean people won’t flock to the multiplex to add to the director’s $3 billion box office track record. It just means that his Pop Rocks are going to dissolve that much quicker.
A throwback to the square-jawed-muscle-with-a-gun genre, Channing Tatum brings his hunky charm to John McClane … er … Cale, a Capitol policeman who yearns to become a member of the Secret Service, and struggles to connect with his U.S. history-obsessed daughter (Joey King).
Wouldn’t you know it, on the very day his job application is rejected, and while on a father-daughter tour of the White House, paramilitary terrorists handily take control of the building and attempt to kidnap the president (Foxx). Of course, regular guy Tatum becomes the thorn in the terrorists’ side, uncovering their true agenda, teaming up with the president to rescue his daughter and thwarting a nuclear crisis … after many, many bullets and explosions.
The script for White House Down doesn’t have a logical or original bone in its body. Each preposterous plot twist is telegraphed 15 minutes before it arrives, the quips are beyond stale, the action is more busy than thrilling, the geopolitical issues are written in crayon-simple terms, and even the bad guy behind the bad guy reveal feels like the discarded ending from an episode of Scooby-Doo.
Foxx and Tatum’s buddy-action hero shtick has a few good moments, but overall lacks the proper snap because Foxx never really seems presidential. He can land a punch line and a punch, but never achieves the presence or gravitas needed to complement Tatum’s goofy everyman warrior. It’s hard to imagine him getting elected to a school board — let alone the Oval Office. The supporting cast — James Woods, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Richard Jenkins, Jason Clarke and Nicolas Wright — acquit themselves ably in service of a summer blockbuster paycheck.
For many, White House Down will be a diverting if dopey evening at the movies, a two-hour-plus excuse to shovel popcorn and Milk Duds into their maws. If Emmerich has figured out one thing about American culture, it’s our gluttonous appetite for things that aren’t good for us.
White House Down is in theaters now, rated PG-13 and has a running time of 137 minutes.