If you were a tad disappointed with John McClane’s escapades in the latest Die Hard film (A Good Day To Die, 2013), fear not, Independence Day director Roland Emmerich gives you a younger version of Willis in Channing Tatum as white-vest-wearing, gun-totting John Cale (even the name sounds similar) in White House Down. This is a less serious affair than the recent, brutal Olympus Has Fallen, as the famous address of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave gets another pounding by unfriendly visitors after the President of the Free World.
Emmerich’s White House Down knows where it stands and doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel of action sieges or make some tedious political statement (though can’t resist subtly banging the world peace drum either). In fact, even the baddies are homegrown, with not an illegal alien in sight. It concentrates on bursts of well-placed action while wisely turning down proceedings a few notches to give us fleshed-out characters that don’t avoid the genre stereotypes but prick our interest as they have great rapport in the leads of Cale (Tatum) and President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx). Indeed, if films of a full-on, destructive nature are your bag, this double-ticks the box – hardly surprising, given its $150 million budget at action guru Emmerich’s disposal.
Ex-military-turned-US Capitol Cop Cale is on his way to the White House to interview for a plum job in the President’s Secret Service. Taking his White House-obsessed teen daughter, Emily (Joey King), along for a visit, the pair get separated and caught up in a siege by terrorists who shut down the infamous address to the outside world. Cale finds he’s the only one in the know of the whereabouts of President Sawyer, and must use his skills to keep him safe and out of the hands of the heavily armoured terrorists while trying to find and protect his daughter.
As clichéd and patriotic as the plot appears – like some Team America real-life action flick, Emmerich’s film has an undeniable, instant likeability to it, from the very first explosion. It’s highly self-aware in its ode to Die Hard and other such action movies – complete with an elevator shaft moment and saucy nod to the director’s Independence Day attack on the historic building. Emmerich simply molds a genre he knows well to pull out all the stops and deliver a satisfying watch for fans who never cease to be thrilled by his attacks on prominent landmarks either.
Central to White House Down’s success is not just the tongue-in-cheek, copycat style of like films, but also the successful casting of Tatum opposite Foxx. There can be no doubt now that this film will cement Tatum’s action-man status as he’s a amiable and energetic force to be reckoned with and not at all unattractive to look at either – the secret of Willis/McClane’s initial success.
Tatum plays the stereotypical flawed hero with nine lives very comfortably, trying to save the day and face (in his estranged screen daughter’s eyes). Foxx is the kind of imaginary President in Sawyer, the all-round good guy, all Americans would love to vote for – and some parallels to Obama are not lost, like Sawyer’s love of Air Jordans footwear, for example. Tatum and Foxx smoothly rift off one another from the get-go, wisely dispensing with the customary chalk-and-cheese observations at the start to merely come together as just two ordinary guys trying to get out of the firing line.
One of the dumbest but most brilliantly entertaining sequences involve the pair that charges around the White House grounds in the Beast, an armoured tank of a car that seems to withstand any rocket attack, until a swimming pool gets in its way. Even in the midst of chaos, the dialogue is hilarious and comically timed and delivered by Tatum and Foxx. Seeing the President with a rocket launcher is the highlight moment in the wake of a wanton path of destruction.
Supporting the comedy duo is an appealing A-list cast of Maggie Gyllenhaal, Richard Jenkins and James Woods who are naturally underused but simply supply some gravitas to proceedings while stamping experience and ‘authority’ – in Jenkins case – in the corridors of power. Admittedly, they don’t escape stereotyping – as usual, all suited and booted and making new allegiances in a secret underground military hub, while Gyllenhaal’s disposed senior security advisor Finnerty cracks her own investigation of who is behind the threat from within the very same impenetrable walls. It’s inevitable of such a cast as the film’s about rescuing the White House and one man’s reputation (Cale’s) as a sub-plot. Plus it already runs at over 2 hours so further character analysis isn’t top priority.
Emmerich’s White House Down thunders from one far-fetched scenario to another, but all set within a good pace that doesn’t allow attention to wander, or for us to not care about the characters either. As predictable as it comes, this film is probably one of the most enjoyable, big-action flicks of recent months, like some guilty pleasure that deserves more credit than just another elaborate Emmerich display. If nothing else, Tatum has hit jackpot here, finally fitting the action-man shoes that G.I. Joe’s Duke didn’t.
By Lisa Giles-Keddie