White House Down

Year: 2013
Production Co: Centropolis Entertainment
Studio: Columbia
Director: Roland Emmerich
Producer: Roland Emmerich
Writer: James Vanderbilt
Cast: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, James Woods, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Richard Jenkins, Joey King, Jake Weber

After films about the biggest alien invasion the screen had ever seen in Independence Day and the whole world crumbling, flooding and freezing in The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, something as small scale and bland as terrorists overtaking the White House might have been too boring for audiences coming from Roland Emmerich. There isn't even a dog being saved (check all his other films). That's the only reason I can see for it's poor box office performance.

But it's a very serviceable action movie that takes broad sideswipes into comedy befitting the concept. The White House is laughably easy to take over one day when President Sawyer (Foxx) has announced the withdrawal of all troops from the Middle East. It's a kind of wish fulfilment fantasy on the part of Hollywood but gives him an easy enemy in mercenaries hired by the outgoing Secret Service Presidential detail head Walker (Woods – when the hell did he get so old and grey?!?).

Inside on the fateful day is the hero, a young clone of John McLane in John Cale (a totally hatstand Channing Tatum, so devoid of presence he almost disappears against the wallpaper). He's a low level secret service cop and war hero who really wants to work in the President's detail but who can't take orders. He's also a divorced dad with a pre-teen daughter who thinks he's an idiot – all the tropes you know are going to pay off down the line.

When the team of heavies set off a bomb in the Capitol building, Emmerich wrangles the only large-scale special effect we know him for and the bad guys in the White House move in. Cale is in the building to be interviewed by old colleague Finnerty (Gyllenhaal), who dampens his ambitions because of his record, and when the gunfire starts, his daughter is among the victims taken hostage in a tourist group.

Cale finds his way to the President and starts working on getting to his daughter and getting the President out while the security forces of the government rally outside.

We haven't seen the Die Hard template for a while, but White House Down recreates it not just because of the genre but because of the lone hero battling a gang of distinctive villains that have to be picked off one at a time, ultimately leading to the big boss. There's even the nerdy hacker type.

The rest of it's a run of the mill actioner, albeit with a huge cast of famous faces who take it all too seriously. If nothing else, the political standpoint of the film is the most interesting thing. With writer James Vanderbilt, Emmerich has his finger on the pulse of the middle American public, as always. There's a sense of reverence for the figure of the soldier and the office (as well as the man – black villains just aren't politically correct anymore) of President. But it portrays most of the people surrounding them – politicians, big business, etc – as self-serving and corrupt.

The tone careens as fast as the choppers, armoured cars and gunfights on screen, the whole thing a free-wheeling mess, and while action movie fans might appreciate the effects, everyone else will roll their eyes and complain about the continued decline of Hollywood. Comments like it in response to a Roland Emmerich movie are almost as guaranteed as a scene of a heroic dog.

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