I can’t imagine how anyone pitched this concept to a movie
studio. It’s a big summer movie from the director of Independence Day, full of huge, explosive action scenes—and
completely unexpected comedy. I’ve never seen anything quite like it: not a
self-parody, but a film that asks you to take it seriously at one moment, then
throws out all sense of logic the next. The result is outlandish, inventive,
and completely entertaining. I’m tempted to call it my Guilty Pleasure movie of
the summer, but I don’t feel all that guilty.
Channing Tatum plays a divorced guy who’s trying to build a
relationship with his 11-year-old daughter (Joey King) while pursuing his dream
job on the President’s Secret Service staff. The President’s chief of staff (Maggie
Gyllenhaal) tells him that his checkered past, plus lack of experience and
education, make this impossible. But while Tatum and his wide-eyed daughter are
taking a tour of the White House, the unthinkable happens: a group of homegrown
terrorists take over the building, kill innumerable staff members, and hold the
President (Jamie Foxx) prisoner. Tatum happens to be the only man on the scene
who has even a prayer of helping the Chief Executive.
It would be foolish and wasteful to analyze the film or look
for loopholes in logic. It would also be a mistake to take it too seriously—or
to put it another way, more seriously than the filmmakers do. Innocent people
die onscreen and that’s no laughing matter, nor is it meant to be. The threat
has to be real for the comic-book heroics to gain any traction. Again, I must
marvel at James Vanderbilt’s screenplay and the guidance of director Roland
Emmerich, who never allows the comedy to dissipate the tension or the
often-outrageous humor to undermine the drama.
Emmerich has also stocked his pond with exceptional actors
including the always-welcome James Woods, Richard Jenkins, and Jason Clarke, as
well as a number of lesser-known performers in showy supporting roles—like
Nicolas Wright as Donnie, the White House tour guide. Tatum is just right as an
ordinary guy who rises to the occasion to become an almost-invincible action
hero, while Foxx has fun as a sincere—but hip—President.
In a summer with too many sequels and overhyped
blockbusters, White House Down stands
out as a genuine original. It may not hew to genre conventions, but it’s a lot
of fun to watch.