RATING: 2 stars (out of 4)
While White House Down is very much an awful disgrace of a movie, it’s easy to sit back and appreciate what it was going for. It’s all bombast and catch-phrases and exploding-for-no-reason choppers, just the way Schwarzenegger, Willis and Stallone saw fit to have it in their day.
The movie is as 80s as Punky Brewster. Nothing that happens in the movie makes any sort of sense. Armored limos flip and land in pools. Presidents do drive-bys on fences with RPGs. Suckers get shot in the chest and are laughing about it five minutes later. Nuclear launch computers chat people up in Speak & Spell voices. Characters communicate entirely in catch-phraseology.
It tries hard to please on its chosen level of ignorance. Maybe too hard. No, definitely too hard. All its silly explosions, brick-brained attempts at tackling foreign policy and presidential politics and spontaneous wrestling matches don’t add up in a story with any real build-up or payoff. The movie has the dramatic sensibilities of a circus or fireworks show. Much of it is cool and some of it is amazing, but there’s no real reaction other than squinting your eyes and uttering “Well, that certainly happened.”
The movie is the latest venture in Independence Day-director Rolan Emmerich’s lifelong quest to blow up the White House on film as often as possible. Emmerich’s philosophy seems to fill the screen with explosion after explosion, making sure all his actors ignore those explosions in order to either look too cool or too stupid to be bothered by the destruction and death raining around them.
Channing Tatum definitely has the looking stupid part down. If the White House ever does fall under attack by domestic terrorists, he’s the guy you want to stick inside, chasing them around while his equally stupid daughter taunts them with schoolyard insults. A wannabe Secret Service agent, Tatum’s character seems to truly enjoy frolicking around a burning White House, killing bad guys with bullets and blue steel looks alike.
There’s a point in the movie where he’s told the entire White House will be blown up within 8 minutes. Where most people would run, Tatum decides to spend the next 45 minutes or so checking stuff out. He finds time for heartfelt give-and-takes with villains, huggly pep talks with his daughter and bromantic bonding with Jamie Foxx, the equally dumb Commander in Chief who behaves as though he shouldn’t be trusted to operate the laser tag booth at the mall.
Remember when Foxx was all about trying to become a serious actor, winning an Oscar for Ray and starring in high-minded cinematic aristocracy like Dreamgirls and The Soloist? He balls all that up and hook-shots it into the trash can. He plays the POTUS just like In Living Color Jamie Foxx would have trotted out in between Fly Girls routines.
Because of how shameless and silly it is, the movie works as often as it doesn’t on its chosen level of idiocy. It’s a lot like a puppy. You want to pat it on the head and flip a biscuit in its mouth. But eventually you get sick of it panting and whacking you with its tail and wish it would just calm down and go away.
Starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, James Woods and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Written by James Vanderbilt. Directed by Roland Emmerich. Rated PG-13. 131 minutes.