Craig's First Take: "White House Down"

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While on a tour of the White House with his young daughter, a police officer (Channing Tatum) springs into action to protect his child and the president (Jamie Foxx) from a heavily armed group of paramilitary invaders.
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Buses, planes, spaceships, Alcatraz, can you even call them things if they haven’t been the subject of a “Die Hard” clone movie? 2013 marked the graduation of the White House into this prestigious category, twice actually, and the results are in on how they did. The answer: not great. The best of these movies (I’m thinking “The Rock”, “Speed”, “Passenger 57”) were able to run with the concept while taking on inventive ways to thrill. “Olympus Has Fallen” and the new “White House Down” each just seem intent on going through the motions, ripping off other films, leaving widespread destruction of America’s house, and leading up to an ending scenario where the ticking clock (actually 2 in this movie) to nuclear Armageddon is put into effect. Let me tell you one thing about the ticking clock. It should be retired. It works more as an indicator of how much longer the movie is going to be than it does as a suspense tool.

So much of “White House Down” feels like its copying better movies, you almost think James Vanderbilt should share the 3 million dollar payday he got for this script. Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. John Cale (Channing Tatum) is a decorated former 3 tour military man, now on the security detail of the speaker of the house (Richard Jenkins). We see him being interviewed by a white house beaurocrat (Maggie Gyllenhaal) in one early scene but of course he doesn’t get the job because she sees him as too much of a renegade and he doesn’t have the book smarts. All together now: BUT HE KNOWS HOW TO GET RESULTS, DUMMY!

He also happens to be a divorced, absentee dad with a daughter who hates him but has a love for all things White House. He gets her tickets for the tour where she soon finds herself face to face with President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) himself. Sawyer is currently trying to put peace talks together with several Arab countries and in exchange he promises to rid the world of war profiteers in order to make that peace a reality. It isn’t long before a team of armed mercenaries manages to blow-up the capital building and violence breaks out all over Washington, putting the president and Cale’s little girl in the crossfire.

This wave of destruction is director Roland Emerich’s whole MO, he is after all the director of all types of disaster films including “Independence Day”, which he can’t help but wink at in an early scene in this movie. Buildings, planes, automobiles, ect are all blown up (sometimes convincingly, others the computer effects couldn’t be more obvious) while there are lots of fights and gun-play that entertain more for their over-the-top ludicrousness than anything else.

Tatum is hardly called upon to do much acting but he runs, jumps, and fights well and he looks good doing it, while Foxx is a safe, non-threatening presidential figure with nothing but good intentions. Thankfully, when the two team up, they can be funny at times. There are three villains here who actually aren’t horrible but much like the rest of the movie, seem like one-dimensional clones. Jason Clarke’s ruthless henchman and Jimmi Simpson’s eccentric computer hacker are both direct copies from “Die Hard”, while James Woods, in a role he could do in his sleep but still great to see him doing it, kinda reminded me of Ed Harris in “The Rock.”

But here’s the plot twist. I don’t hate this movie. It’s a bad movie that gets more ridiculous with each passing minute but it seems to know it’s being ridiculous and at times comes up with something that is looney in all the right ways, like a car chase all over the white house lawn. It’s easy to sit through, never bores, has a couple thrills, and allows you to sit back and laugh at it. It’s the best bad movie I’ve seen all summer.