Film Review: White House Down

daniel cohen brings down the house …

white-house-down-poster

Plot: As President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) tries to push a major peace treaty that would remove military forces from the Middle East, the White House is attacked by unknown terrorists. While attacked, former soldier John Cale (Channing Tatum), and his daughter Emily (Joey King) are on tour at the White House. As the two get separated, Cale is thrust into protecting the President, as he also tries to get back to his daughter, and ultimately has to stop the threat going on in the nation’s capitol.

I’m still not sure if I enjoyed White House Down or not. I’ll know by the end of this review. This was a weird movie experience. There’s been a lot of complaints the last couple years about trailers misleading audiences. This is the most misleading trailer I’ve seen in a long time, because while we get the action the trailer promises, it really does push this as an intense, and serious thriller. But what we get instead is almost a comedy. It’s kind of odd this movie opens just a few months after Olympus Has Fallen, which has the exact same premise: A bunch of evil dudes take over the White House. White House Down is basically the G-rated version of Olympus Has Fallen. For the first thirty minutes, I hated this movie, because I was still expecting it to be what the trailer had promised. But after a while, I finally realized I wasn’t going to get that movie, and when I started to get into the rhythm of what this was, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had a fun time with this.

Now like I said, the first thirty minutes are rough. The dialogue is absolutely bottom of the barrel. And it’s sad to watch great actresses like Maggie Gyllenhaal utter some of these lines … ugh. But I can best sum up the first act like this: Channing Tatum gets into an argument with a squirrel. I’m not kidding. Go look up other reviews, I’m sure they mention it. The relationship with his daughter is also very Disneyfied. The music is over the top generic, and very cutesy. Like I said, this is all early on, so I was strapping myself in for a rough ride. But there comes a point where the over-excited White House Tour Guide (Nicolas Wright) goes up to one of the terrorists, and forcefully tells him not to break any of the historical artifacts. It was here where I said to myself, ‘this is the tone of the movie.’ And when I realized that, I started to get into it.

The biggest reason this film works more times then not though is because this cast is simply entertaining as hell. Channing Tatum. Jamie Foxx. Maggie Gyllenhaal. Jason Clarke. Richard Jenkins. James Woods!! These guys are having an absolute blast, and just a pleasure to watch. I don’t want to give away too much on James Wood’s character, but he’s doing what he does best, let’s just leave it at that. As I mentioned before, Maggie Gyllenhaal is forced to spout out atrocious lines of dialogue, but she does it with a smile. Jason Clarke plays the perfect villain, Stenz. And just to continue what the tone is like, Stenz, this really evil terrorist, is offered a piece of cake, but grumpily swipes it away as he yells ‘I’m a diabetic!’ There’s also a nice little supporting role from Jimmi Simpson, who plays Skip Tyler, a master hacker. This guy is the reincarnation of Boris form Goldeneye.

But I do want to focus on the two leads, Tatum and Foxx. Even amongst all these great actors, Tatum may have given the best performance. He is exceptionally charismatic, and carries the film well. I truly did care about this guy. Tatum is really starting to come into his own, and while I don’t think we’re seeing the next Leonardo DiCaprio, there is a little bit of Joseph Gordon-Levitt in this guy. He’s got great chemistry with Foxx, as the two spend a lot of screen time together. And while Foxx is a great actor, and plays this part well, he says and does things in this movie that are so dumb, you may lose brain power when watching them. I’m shocked he agreed to do some of this stuff. There’s a damn car chase in the middle of the White House lawn, and without spoiling it, the President does something that is so utterly ridiculous and stupid, I couldn’t help but laugh, but I mean that in a good way.

You would think that the White House being attacked, and the threat of a major terrorist unit taking over the city would be treated with the utmost seriousness, and frighten the shit out of people, right? Yeah, not in this film. When that car chase in the White House is going down, there’s people cheering behind the fences like they’re at a football game. But the tone is established so well, it never bothered me. And people may think I’m nuts, but this movie really plays like a JV Avengers. I enjoyed the Avengers for all the same reasons I enjoyed this film: there’s good camaraderie among the actors, the action is insane, and even though there’s all this serious destruction going on, it’s established early on that this is a cartoon, so I don’t mind the lighthearted tone. But what propels the Avengers into greatness as opposed to something like this, is that the Avengers actually has some good dialogue, and when it needs to be serious, you buy it more. When this wants to get serious, it fails miserably.

What separates this from other dumb action movies like G.I. Joe: Retaliation or World War Z, is that the characters actually have personalities, and you care about them. If I’m invested in the characters, I can forgive some of the stupidity. And what separates a director like Roland Emmerich (who directed this) from someone like Michael Bay, is that the action is actually filmed pretty well. And even though the humor is bad at times, it’s never at that Bay level. Although, there’s one really obnoxious joke where the Tour Guide mentions Independence Day. Get it? Roland Emmerich directed Independence Day … haha.

I enjoyed this film, but don’t get me wrong — it’s dumb with a capital D-U-M-B. But this movie makes the smart choice of going all the way goofy, keeping it’s tone consistent. Once you find the movie’s sweet spot, it’s a lot of fun. So I guess now I can never run for President, because my opposition can just find this review, and can tell people, ‘you want to vote for this guy? He thought White House Down was a good movie!’

Rating: 7 out of 10 (Good)

all photos credit: columbia pictures

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.