Directed by: Roland Emmerich.
Written by: James Vanderbilt.
Starring: Channing Tatum (Cale), Jamie Foxx (President Sawyer), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Finnerty), Jason Clarke (Stenz), Richard Jenkins (Raphelson), Joey King (Emily), James Woods (Walker), Nicolas Wright (Donnie the Guide), Jimmi Simpson (Tyler), Michael Murphy (Vice President Hammond), Rachelle Lefevre (Melanie), Lance Reddick (General Caulfield), Matt Craven (Agent Kellerman), Jake Weber (Agent Hope), Peter Jacobson (Wallace), Barbara Williams (Muriel Walker), Kevin Rankin (Killick), Garcelle Beauvais (Alison Sawyer), Falk Hentschel (Motts), Romano Orzari (Mulcahy), Jackie Geary (Jenna), Andrew Simms (Roger Skinner).
There is a difference between an ordinary stupid movie and a gloriously stupid movie, and I cannot think of a better example to highlight the difference than comparing two 2013 films – Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down. Olympus Has Fallen is an ordinary stupid movie – a group of terrorist take over the White House for their own nefarious purposes, and a lone Secret Service agent takes them out one at a time on route to rescuing the President. White House Down is a gloriously stupid movie with the same basic premise – the only difference being that the lone man is not a Secret Service agent yet, and he actually teams up with the President to take down the terrorists. Both movies essentially want to be Die Hard in the White House. But Olympus Has Fallen is just a regular stupid movie – a mildly diverting action movie that is okay while you’re watching it, and then completely forgotten. White House Down on the other hand is a gloriously stupid one. Director Roland Emmerich throws everything imaginable at the audience through the over two hours the movie runs, and while it’s impossible to take a moment of the movie seriously, I also found it impossible to resist. If you want to call White House Down a stupid movie, I won’t argue with you. But it’s gloriously stupid because it goes for broke at every moment. I left the theater grinning from ear to ear.
The basic setup is simple. John Cale (Channing Tatum) works on the security detail for the Speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins) – but his dream job is to be a Secret Service agent on the President’s protection detail. He is divorced, and has an 11 year old daughter Emily (Joey King), who is obsessed with politics, and idolizes President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx). So Cale pulls some string, gets an interview with the head of the President’s details – Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal), and brings Emily along so she can see the White House. The interview doesn’t go well, but the two of them join a tour, and things seems to be going well – that is until a group of terrorists coolly, calmly and efficiently take over the White House. They need the President – what for, you’ll have to wait to find out – and somehow Cale ends up saving the President, and the two of them hide in the White House while trying to find a way out – and taking out the terrorist’s one at a time. Oh, and Emily – who was separated from Cale, of course – gets herself into a lot of trouble with the terrorists, by not being the dumb kid they think she is.
As a director, Emmerich has no subtlety in him – he deals strictly in this type of huge, bombastic action movie. Even when he tried a more serious movie – with the Shakespeare was a fraud drama Anonymous – the result was a bloated mess of a movie. He has his share of those on his resume – Stargate, Godzilla and 10,000 BC chief among them. But when he hits it just right – like Independence Day and parts of The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 – the result can be a ridiculously good time at the movies. White House Down certainly fits the bill on that level.
The movie works so well for a few reasons. The first being Emmerich can direct action, and thankfully, he has not gone with the trendy hand held camera and rapid fire editing approach to the action sequences. The action sequences are clear and well shot – you’re never confused about what’s going on, unlike so many other action movies.
Perhaps the bigger reason why the film works though is the performances. Tatum and Foxx have a nice chemistry together – they are essentially doing buddy action movie shtick, but it works well. Both have effortless charm and humor, and that keeps the movie afloat no matter how ridiculous things get. I also appreciated that they didn’t make Foxx some anonymous, no politics President like they did with Aaron Eckhart in Olympus Has Fallen – he’s clearly modeled after Barack Obama, and he’s clearly a Democrat (even if the word is never uttered). It may have been even more interesting to make him a Republican, but I’m not going to nitpick too much. The supporting cast – from Gyllenhaal to King to Jenkins to James Woods and Jason Clarke as two of the bad guys to Michael Murphy as the Vice President to Nicolas Wright, as a tour guide, all have nice moments as well.
I’m not trying to argue that White House Down is a great movie – it isn’t. But it is a great guilty pleasure experience. So many of the blockbusters this summer – both good and bad – have taken themselves very seriously. It’s somewhat refreshing to see such glorious, ridiculous stupidity on full display in White House Down.