Friday, July 5, 2013

"White House Down" (2013)

Starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx and Maggie Gyllenhaal
Written by James Vanderbilt
Directed by Roland Emmerich
Rated PG-13 - Violence, language, children in peril
Running Time: 137 Minutes

John Cale (Channing Tatum) is a DC cop working protection detail for Speaker of the House Eli Raphelson (Richard Jenkins). He manages to call in a favor to snag a job interview for the Secret Service, and takes his politics-fanatic daughter Emily (Joey King) along for the chance to check out the White House.

At the same time, President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) has unveiled a bold plan for peace in the Middle East that involves exposing all the dirty deeds of the military-industrial complex and pulling all American troops out of the region. Facing stiff opposition, today is the day that will either make or break his plan as he tries to get Congress and America's allies on board.

It's also the last week on the job for Martin Walker (James Woods), Secret Service agent in charge of the Presidential Detail. But as his cohorts throw him a retirement party, including Special Agent Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal), they have no idea that Walker has masterminded a plan to seize control of the White House and everyone within it.

Soon, the country is in crisis as the seat of our government's power is under attack. A bomb devastates the Capitol building, prompting Raphelson to move to the Pentagon. The Vice President (Michael Murphy) is whisked away on Air Force One. Armed men storm the White House from within, slaughtering security guards and the Secret Service. They are led by Eli Stenz (Jason Clarke), a vicious former black ops soldier.

And stuck in the middle of it is John Cale, who manages to get away from the terrorists and rescue the president. Cale and Sawyer are on the run in the White House, outnumbered and outgunned. But Finnerty suspects that Walker isn't the only black hat around, and wonders just who the real players are, and what their endgame might be.

Ah, yes, the time has come again for another gleefully dumb Roland Emmerich romp. The man who brought us "Stargate," "Independence Day" and "2012" has returned to bring us the second of 2013's "terrorists seize the White House" movies. The first, "Olympus Has Fallen" did not meet my expectations. "White House Down" on the other hand delivers exactly what its advertising campaign promises: a goofy summer blockbuster loaded with big effects and not a lot of depth.

Channing Tatum has recently found his niche when he revealed in "21 Jump Street" that he's remarkably capable at comedy and action, and he proves here once again that this is where he belongs. He has great chemistry with everyone around him whenever he's not trying to do anything overly serious. He has a warm, jokey bond with his daughter, which works well with her character that's written to be mature for her age. He also works great with Foxx, who also has great comedy chops. Many of the best scenes in "White House Down" are when these two bicker and banter back and forth, especially a hilarious sequence with Tatum driving an armored limo and Foxx attempting to assemble and fire a rocket launcher in the back seat.

Foxx isn't terribly believable as President of the United States, but he works so well with the rest of the cast around him that it doesn't matter. And, frankly, with a movie this goofy, it really, seriously just doesn't matter. The film definitely knows how absurd it is, as the cast is clearly having a good time with it all. There are so many scenes where it seems like they're just a hair's breadth away from winking and smiling at the camera, and it's somewhat infectious. Maggie Gyllenhaal is given the movie's real emotional weight, and she manages to elevate the material.

The movie is brisk, despite its running time. It gets bogged down sometimes when it leaves the action in the White House to check in on its other characters. But a cast this big is just another one of Emmerich's hallmarks. In fact, the movie in general feels exactly like it should from this filmmaker. The pacing, the imagery, the cast, is all vintage Emmerich. If you've seen his previous movies, you know what to expect. Despite that, "White House Down" is also Emmerich's smallest-scale film, as all the action is contained to the White House and surrounding area. There are no sprawling scenes of world-wide destruction, no globe-trotting heroes, none of that. And yet, it's still totally recognizable with all the chases, shootouts and general carnage you're looking for.

The movie has one real "plot twist," but you'll be able to see it coming a mile away. That's not why we're here. We want to see Channing Tatum kicking some ass, and we totally get that. The movie manages to avoid the overwhelming cheapness that was one of the downfalls of "Olympus."

It's easy to recommend "White House Down" if you're in the mood for an action flick that doesn't take itself very seriously. The cast is having a great time, script is dumb, but jokey, the effects and action sequences are well made and fun. "White House Down" is a good, solid time at the movies.