Emmerich the Destroyer

Review: ‘White House Down’ is action-farce

• June 28, 2013 4:59 am


Roland Emmerich, the director of White House Down, likes to repeat himself.

He has destroyed the planet by fire (2012) and ice (The Day After Tomorrow). He has destroyed New York by monster (Godzilla) and alien (Independence Day). And he has shown us revolutionary heroes from the past (The Patriot), and from the distant past (10,000 B.C.).

So it should come as no surprise that he’s recreating his most iconic image: the destruction of the White House. This time, however, the enemy comes not from outer space (Independence Day) but from America’s inner demons.

Capitol Hill police officer and would-be Secret Service agent John Cale (Channing Tatum) takes his precocious political addict daughter Emily (Joey King) on a tour of the White House. But today is no ordinary day at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

President Jim Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) is returning from a whirlwind tour of the Middle East during which he singlehandedly negotiated peace with the Iranians and promised a withdrawal of all American troops from Arab lands. This plan will not only end terrorism but also somehow solve world hunger or something (forget it, he’s rolling).

But there are some who don’t want peace. Some who want children to starve. I think we all know who: "American companies who do business with the American military," as one character puts it. "They won’t be happy."

Indeed, they are so unhappy they enlist disgruntled Delta Force officers, white supremacists, higher ups in the Secret Service, and senior members of government to attack the White House and capture the president. The attack commences and the president’s protection is wiped out. Only John Cale can save him from certain death. But how will our hero also protect his daughter, now held hostage by the mad men?

The odd couple spend the film’s final 90 minutes playing hide-and-seek in the White House, punctuating every 10 minutes of hiding with scenes of brutal hand-to-hand violence, massive shootouts, and even a car chase on the White House lawn.

Tatum and Foxx excel in their respective roles, bringing the right amount of levity to an otherwise absurd action picture. Similarly, the villains bring just the right mixture of intensity and insanity to their roles: Jason Clarke (The Great Gatsby, Zero Dark Thirty, and Lawless) continues his run of excellent supporting roles as a Delta Force vet with an ax to grind, while Jimmi Simpson (best known as Liam McPoyle on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) injects just the right amount of comedic relief as a self-aggrandizing hacker.

White House Down’s politics are facile. The script reads as if it was written by a college freshman who just got his first taste of Zinn and Chomsky.

When Cale asks who could possibly launch such an assault on the White House, Sawyer incredulously replies, "You ever heard of the military-industrial complex?"

The various geopolitical plots under consideration by the film’s villains—and the film’s heroes—are remarkably contradictory. But why let a little thing like logic get in the way when there are super serial points to be made?

If you can look past the gaping logical flaws and Emmerich’s childish politics, what remains is a modestly entertaining action-comedy, the sort of disposable fare summers are made for.