It hasn’t been a great year for the White House. Already suffering from a North Korean assault earlier in the year in gritty actioner Olympus Has Fallen, the US President’s house is now under siege by the master of disaster himself, Roland Emmerich (2012, Independence Day). Alas, what could have been a fun romp in the vein of Die Hard is instead bogged down by a lengthy runtime and unconvincing and heavy-handed attempts at seriousness.
Channing Tatum stars as Capitol Police Officer John McClane Cale, a war veteran who’s struggling to heal a fractured relationship with his daughter Emily (Joey King). To this end he tries to impress her by snagging her a White House pass while he interviews for a position in the Secret Service – she’s obsessed with politics and delights in giving the audience a history lesson of the building.
Unfortunately for John however, it turns out that he’s being interviewed by Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal), an old acquaintance of his who doesn’t think he’s trustworthy enough for the job. Just when things can’t seem to get much worse for John, a crack team of mercenary types infiltrate the White House and seize control.
Separated from his daughter, John ends up being a thorn in the side of takeover mastermind Martin Walker (James Woods), who had accounted for taking care of the Secret Service Agents in the building but not a lone wild card. And so it’s left to John in the face of Homeland Security’s ineptness to wage a one-man war against an army of evil henchmen (headed up by Jason Clarke as an ex-Delta Force operative), all the while trying to save his daughter and protect President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx).
The problem is that the story spends too much time trying to be serious, and this juxtaposes harshly with Emmerich’s trademark silliness and over-the-top action. Indeed, White House Down is trying desperately to be a cheesy action flick so whenever characters pause to elicit more dramatic beats it feels awkward and insincere, rampant patriotism notwithstanding.
This is at its worst in the opening act, which simply takes far too long to get going – you might even forget that White House Down is supposed to be an action movie. And how about that Springfield Tire Yard of narrative clichés! In an early scene, President Sawyer mentions a precious watch given to him as a gift which he keeps in a pocket over his heart – oh boy, I wonder if that might come into play at a point later in the film? The only thing that could have been more on the nose would have been if Foxx turned and winked at the audience.
Yet for all the missteps, Emmerich has crafted a watchable experience that can be a fun time. Tatum and Foxx have good chemistry, with Foxx in particular revealing a keen knack for sly comedic timing. The action is suitably ludicrous, and it’s easy to embrace when Emmerich is in ‘blockbuster cheese mode’. It’s everything between these moments that threatens boredom and might make you wish that you’d seen Olympus Has Fallen instead.
Heavy-handed and too long, White House Down is a stupid fun action movie only some of the time.