I’ve got nothing against a dumb action movie on a hot summer night. What’s not to like about escapism? White House Down helpfully answers that question by giving you tons of stuff not to like. I mean, there’s dumb and then there’s idiotic. One accomplishment I can’t deny is that White House Down makes the godawful Olympus Has Fallen, a March release with almost exactly the same plot, look like the better offer.
What the what! I’m not kidding. In Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen, a North Korean paramilitary block invades the White House to capture the President (Aaron Eckhart). Only one brave secret service agent (Gerard Butler) can save the day. Spoiler: He does. In Roland Emmerich’s White House Down, a paramilitary terrorist group invades the White House to capture the President (Jamie Foxx). Only one brave wannabe secret service agent (Channing Tatum) can save the day. Spoiler: He does.
I’m not making this up. Both movies take the same plot and do nothing with it. Director Emmerich has blown up DC before (remember 1996’s Independence Day), but he’s lost his touch. Or just doesn’t care. I know I didn’t. Tatum looks every inch the action hero, but he’s got nothing to play. Foxx doesn’t look remotely presidential, and phones in what is laughably being called a performance.
Worse is the shameless product placement. At one point the Prez says he won’t leave the White House without his Jordans. He actually stops the movie to put them on, and those kicks are really ready for their closeup.
Worse than that is the lazy filmmaking. To generate suspense, Emmerich has the lead terrorist (Jason Clarke in a mighty fall from Zero Dark Thirty) hold a gun to the head of a 10-year-old girl (Joey King). She would be the daughter of Tatum’s cop. In fact, nearly all the terrorists threaten to do damage to the little girl, who the script seems to criticize for being smart and outspoken. Nice. There’s a word for a film that stoops to child endangerment for cheap thrills: vile.
I could go on. The movie certainly does, for an interminable 131 minutes. Things explode at regular intervals. A few good actors, Richard Jenkins, James Woods, Maggie Gyllenhaal, line up as targets. And computers generate what passes for action filmmaking. White House Down, rated PG-13 but as crass and cynical as a Michael Bay movie, is a depressing experience. A manufactured hit that plays to the basest instincts of its audience. The poster for this movie should read: Hello, Suckers!