Entertainment :: Movies

White House Down

by Padraic Maroney
Contributor
Friday Jun 28, 2013
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Tatum Channing stars in ’White House Down’
Tatum Channing stars in ’White House Down’  (Source:Columbia Pictures)

Director Roland Emmerich has a history of terrorizing the White House. Who can forget the moment in "Independence Day" when the laser beam came down from the sky and incinerated the structure? Now Emmerich is back at it, this time with terrorists shooting up the country’s most famous residence. "White House Down" is a fun, edge of your seat, summer joyride.

Channing Tatum stars as Cale, a guy who’s stumbled through life, but is now attempting to make things right and reconnect with his daughter. That includes interviewing for a job as part of the President’s Secret Service detail, much to the delight of his political junkie child. While touring the White House, after the interview crashes and burns, a group of terrorists take control, leaving only Cale to save the President and the day.

The film is a paint-by-numbers variation on previous Emmerich films, even with their flaws. Emmerich always overstuffs his films with too many characters, leading to at least one dramatic death for a sympathetic minor character and plenty that you wish had never existed in the first place. The most problematic character here is Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Finnerty, who has a platonic history with Tatum’s Cale, and is involved in way more plot points than the never fully realized character deserves. A lead secret service member, she holds decade-long grudges, is self-righteous even when constantly fumbling her way through unraveling conspiracy, and when all else fails she tries to guilt people into doing what she wants. Had the character been better fleshed out, it would warrant giving Gyllenhaal the screen time; but for the most part when the film switches outside of the White House to her scenes, the pace and onscreen action comes to a screeching halt.

What makes "White House Down" work so well is that it is mostly a low tech, shoot ’em up action film. It’s good guys vs. bad guys. Much in the way guys have loved "Die Hard" for years, "White House Down" offers an ordinary guy who is forced to take control of an extraordinary situation. In order to save the day, Cale must not only have the fastest trigger finger, but he must also outsmart the terrorists while trapped within the White House. It’s a role that Tatum is more than willing to do -- and looks good doing it, running around in a white tank top for a portion of the film.

Tatum continues his winning streak here. In just a few short years, the leading man has proven that he is a versatile performer, able to jump from comedy to action to romantic roles without breaking a sweat. Never has his leading man stature been on display better than it is here as he carries the movie effortlessly. Part of his appeal is that he comes across as just a regular guy you might see at a bar. He’s relatable, even when trying to save the leader of the free world.

As President Sawyer, Foxx dials down the bravado that he tends to bring into most of his film roles. He clearly based his performance on President Obama, which he channels on and off throughout the film. From speech patterns to even some of his mannerisms, it’s blatant whom he used as inspiration for Sawyer. Still, it’s a nice change of pace for the actor.

Emmerich, directing a script from James Vanderbilt, has made a career out of directing big action movies. But this is the first time he’s had just a typical, low concept movie. There aren’t any aliens ("Independence Day"), natural disasters ("The Day After Tomorrow" and "2012), or mutated lizards ("Godzilla") anywhere in sight. At just over two hours, the film does suffer a slight bit of bloat; Emmerich tries to keep the pace moving as briskly as possible. Still, a 10-minute car chase around the front lawn of the White House could have been condensed.

Occasionally suffering from the summer excesses of too many characters and action sequences that are too long, "White House Down" still manages to be a fun-filled action flick that is perfect for the hot, steamy summer months. It may not break any new ground, but at least Roland Emmerich ended the movie without blowing up the White House. There’s plenty of damage done to it, but it’s still standing -- and that is progress for the big budget director!

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