Check your brain at the door and be prepared to file Roland Emmerich’s White House Down firmly in the “guilty pleasure” file. The latest from the master of disaster is a gloriously realized piece of popcorn entertainment that revels – and at times wallows in – the ridiculousness of its premise. Sure, we’ve seen the White House taken by siege before, most recently in Olympus Has Fallen from earlier this year, but it lacked the foresight to give us a president who’s not above sporting a pair of Air Jordans when the going gets tough or crack wise when the tension is too thick. From leading man Channing Tatum’s biceps to the ever-increasing explosions that take place throughout, Down is an exercise in excess that will land right in the wheelhouse of the country’s movie-going populace. It is shamelessly patriotic, as well as, repetitively violent.
The movie makes no bones about what it’s all about. It wastes little time plunging us into its cliché-filled script, knowing that when you are presenting well-worn material, the best approach is to cover it fast and get to the good stuff. Channing Tatum is John Cale, a Capitol police officer assigned to protect the speaker of the House, Representative Raphelson (Richard Jenkins). However, he has his sights set on two much bigger goals – being assigned to the president’s security detail and winning back his estranged daughter, Emily (Joey King), who happens to be a political junkie. He’s out to kill two birds with one stone as he schedules an interview at the White House with plans to take his daughter on the tour of the mansion later the same day. However, his timing couldn’t be worse. The home of the president comes under attack while they are there and before the smoke clears, father and daughter have been separated and Cale finds himself side by side with the commander in chief and vows to get him to safety.
What ensues is an extended game of hide-and-seek throughout the White House, as well as in its tunnels and on its grounds. It’s an adventure that requires the utmost suspension of disbelief. The conspiracy that is revealed to be the catalyst for the attack is far-fetched as are the numerous action sequences that lay to waste the most famous home in the country.
With films like Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, Emmerich has established himself as a filmmaker that doesn’t know the meaning of restraint where his visual style or narrative leaps of faith are concerned. That being said, it must be pointed out that he knows how to pace movies of this sort, expertly building a sense of tension before the big disaster hits and once it does, presenting it in a spectacular fashion. You know what you’re getting from Emmerich – a highly polished but entertaining piece of crap, and if you happen to be in the mood for this brand of escapism, he’s your man.
In addition to being a slick and competent filmmaker, the director also has an eye for casting. That he’s able to assemble such an impressive roster of actors for each of his apocalyptic visions speaks to the respect he must have in the Hollywood acting community. I have a feeling he’s quite the charmer as well. In addition to Tatum and Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as the president’s right-hand woman, Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty) is the terrorist with the biggest ax to grind and James Woods is the president’s head of security. That these veterans play their roles straight and with conviction goes a long way toward successfully selling Emmerich’s brand of soap.
However, in the end what makes Down work is that neither Emmerich nor any of his cast takes much of what’s happening seriously. Comedic relief occurs throughout and some of the best moments come from the banter between Tatum and Foxx who have no problem pointing out their character’s shortcomings. This approach makes this ludicrous patriotic exercise – which should do well over the Fourth of July holiday – go down a bit easier.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.