White House Down (2013)

Directed by Roland Emmerich
Written by James Vanderbilt

I seem to always want to point to the Indiana Jones and Star Wars series as being the first real touchstones on my way to becoming a full blown movie geek. From my childhood I instantly connected to these underdog heroes, saving the day on a grand adventure. Luke was just a teenage farm boy, stuck on an outlying planet. Indiana, after all, was just an academic. Yet they achieved such good in the face of evil when called to task. My childhood was full of other action adventures like Die Hard, Con Air and The Rock. The list goes on, but you get the point. These action movies were great blockbusters, full of fun, less CGI and certainly more levity than the dark approach to so many comic book superheroes these days.

At its core, White House Down has the same values, the same vibes as those film. Our outcast hero, John Cale (Channing Tatum) is a college dropout who has a daughter, Emily (Joey King), with his ex-wife. Incessantly forgetting her school functions, like her talent show, Cale attempts to make up for it when he takes the government obsessed girl to the White House with him where he is interviewing for a position with the Secret Service. After a poor interview, the Cale’s go on a White House tour they’re sure to never forget. After the grounds are over taken by a group of America terrorists with the help of an inside man, the tour group is held hostage while the search for the President (Jamie Foxx) proves more difficult than expected, with Cale being the main cause of their problems in finding the Commander in Chief.

Director Roland Emmerich isn’t really covering any new ground with his latest film. It is all stuff we have seen before from him in things like Independence Day (which even gets referenced here) and The Patriot. But even more so, White House Down is more of the same from many films we have seen before. The unoriginality in the film is unapologetic, and thank goodness because it rips off a laundry list of films including Air Force One and the aforementioned The Rock and especially Die Hard. From start to finish the film is predictable and at time ridiculous in its great feats of action, and boneheaded character decision making. Usually this would be enough to declare a film DOA, dead on arrival. But Emmerich somehow handles it with a Midas touch, no doubt with help from his cast.

Tatum and Foxx have great chemistry as the main tandem going up against the terrorists, but the rest of the cast raise the film up as well. With a great supporting roll call of Maggie Gyllenhaal, Richard Jenkins, Jason Clarke, and James Woods, Emmerich manages to hit just about every predictable moment right. Although full of the questionable CGI I mentioned before, the action scenes become compelling and entertaining from the sympathetic performances from the leads. But what makes the film so fun is its sense of humor. Emmerich never takes the proceedings too seriously, allowing room for witty one liners and wonderful character interchanges. Who knew the tour guide (Nicolas Wright) could be such a fun character!?

White House Down does what so many other blockbusters in this day and age fail to do: have fun. So unoriginal I could predict each and every step of the formula, though I was disappointed when Jamie Foxx as president didn’t, at the end of the film, shout out to the terrorists “Get off my lawn!” in a mixed tribute to the classic line from Harrison Ford in Air Force One and Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino. But rarely have I ever seen this type of film delivered as assuredly and in such an entertaining manner. Not high brow cinema, and its rote story will not likely please cinema “die hards”, oddly enough. But in terms of bang for your buck, this has to be the most fun I’ve had in a theater all year.

*** – Very Good

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