White House Down has a ludicrous Jekyll and Hyde complex which wildly swerves between entertaining action and bland American sentiment. It is frustrating waiting for the film to settle into a groove that compliments the preposterous premise.
After being rejected employment with the Secret Service, John Cale (Channing Tatum) goes on a tour of The White House with his daughter. The tour is interrupted by a heavily armed paramilitary group who take over the building and Cale must protect the American President (Jamie Foxx).
There is a scene in White House Down where Cale and the President try to escape The White House in the Presidential limousine while bazookas, mounted machine guns and tanks unleash hell around the vehicle. During the fire-fight, the President hangs out the window with a rocket launcher (which he found in the backseat) and destroys a sentry gate. The set piece is completely barmy but genius in the way it commits to doing an explosive triple back flip into the crazy pool. In fact, the scene ends with the limo flipping upside down and, literally, landing in a pool; bravo! When director Roland Emmerich flexes the irrational muscle of White House Down it works extremely well and it’s dripping with nods to action cinema of yesteryear. The most notable nod is to Die Hard, well, it’s not really a nod but a form of whiplash; there’s a white singlet, a hero named John in the wrong place at the wrong time and explosions galore. While Emmerich riffs on Die Hard, it’s his ability to take the ideas and turn them into gigantic fireballs of mayhem that makes the film a riot.
All the madness of White House Down is sadly buried under soppy romanticism related to the seat of power in Washington. There is a ridiculous amount of imagery relating to President Abraham Lincoln, Cale’s pre-teen daughter obsesses over politics and groups of high ranking military officials salute in unison when the President is mentioned. These moments unseat the lunacy and screenwriter, James Vanderbilt, seems to be trying to ground the film in patriotism when Emmerich has just blown it to smithereens.
Tatum and Foxx work well together and it’s a shame that Emmerich and Vanderbuilt couldn’t fully commit to making the Secret Service/President buddy action element the centrepiece. The duo shine in scenes together but they are forever interrupted by groups of people looking at monitors dishing out expositional dialogue. Screen addict offenders include Government types played by Maggie Gyllenhaal and Richard Jenkins while baddies Jason Clark and James Woods are wasted. An odd highlight is the appearance of Donnie the Tour Guide (Nicolas Wright) who never wavers in his commitment to the job and provides a few top comedic moments.
It’s a real shame that Emmerich couldn’t commit to indulging his special brand of disaster porn (see: everything he has ever made) into a realm of action movie satire. All the elements are at play in White House Down but it’s held back by cheesy patriotism despite the mouth-watering level of chaos.
Cameron Williams - follow Cam on Twitter here: @popcornjunkies