If the summer movie season means one thing, it’s big dumb fun. Lately, studios have realized these movies can actually be big, smart, and really fun, but that doesn’t stop movies like White House Down from squeezing their way in. Coming from director Roland Emmerich — he of such spectacle as Godzilla, Independence Day, and 2012 to name a few — you know what you’re getting into. And when the movie stars Django (Jamie Foxx) and Magic Mike (Channing Tatum), you hope it’s more intentionally fun than not. Thanks to screenwriter James Vanderbilt (Zodiac, Spider-man 2); this is Emmerich’s most fun film in years.
In White House Down, John Cale (Tatum) works as body guard to Speaker of the House Raphelson (Richard Jenkins). When he’s not fending off squirrels from birdhouses, John is busy missing his 11-year-old daughter Emily’s (Joey King) flag twirling routines. He also has an interview at the White House with one of his college buddies, Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who thinks that his never being able to finish anything should keep him from joining the Secret Service. After the interview, John and Emily join a White House tour, just as terrorists attack. Much to everyone’s surprise—except maybe the audience’s—head of the Secret Service, Martin Walker (James Woods) is leading the attack. Now, Emily is split up from the tour group, and Cale winds up saving President Sawyer’s (Foxx) life but must fight back to find his daughter and keep the President alive.
Anyone who’s ever seen an action movie will be able to pinpoint exact plot devices not just because they’re so blatantly displayed by Emmerich, but because they’re just so cliché now. If you can’t guess why the President has an old stopwatch in his breast pocket, then you’re in for a big surprise. And if you don’t already know Woods is the main villain the minute he takes off his American flag lapel, then you need to watch more movies. The only thing standing in the way of White House Down being a little more fun is that as usual, Emmerich lets the runtime go on way too long and the plot keeps getting more convoluted with each scene.
Thankfully, Foxx and Tatum have great rapport and feed off each other when they’re allowed to play their scenes more broadly than the material. Considering they’re starring in what could have been a Die Hard prequel — right down to the lollipop sucking hacker character — when they’re in the middle of a big action scene, things are terrific. Emmerich knows how to blow stuff up spectacularly with the best of them. And that’s what we came to see right? If you’re looking for a big dumb fun mindless popcorn flick — and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that — then White House Down is what you’ve been looking for.
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