I had more fun at White House Down than at any movie I've seen so far this summer. This is that rare summer flick that delivers exactly what it promises: two-plus hours of rollicking, preposterous, often downright cheesy action with lots of guns and explosions and property destruction coupled with a mix of quips and tension in service of an over-the-top plot.
It's Die Hard in the White House, it's a buddy movie, it's guaranteed to make you roll your eyes. It's summertime, and this kind of escapist fare is often attempted, but rarely pulled off. White House Down manages to get just the right balance of stock characters and mayhem.
Sure, the film has virtually the identical story as Olympus Has Fallen, released just a few months ago. The studio spent last year competing with a rival outfit to see who could get their "White House Under Siege" movie finished first. For me, the similarities just made the viewing experience more enjoyable, as it offers a chance to see how two different teams approach a similar project.
The set up: Dashing Washington D.C. police office John Cale (Channing Tatum) goes to the White House - with his plucky 11-year-old daughter Emily (Joey King) in tow - to apply for a job as a secret service agent. The interview, with former colleague Agent Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal) goes poorly - John is too undisciplined and rebellious, natch.
Dejected but determined to make the day positive for his child (who happens to be a White House fanatic who can rattle off all sorts of information about the place that will come in handy later), he takes her on a White House tour. Led by tour guide Donnie Donaldson (Nicolas Wright), who gets enough camera time that you know he'll be a key secondary figure, the group sees the sights and bumps into none other than President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx).
Just after young Emily asks an uncomfortably specific question, the attack begins. The Capitol building is bombed, but that's just a diversion so the mercenaries, led by the viciously effective Emil Stenz (Jason Clarke), can seize the White House and take the President hostage - all part of an even bigger wicked plan. From that point on, it's fist fights, shooting and explosions as John, separated from Emily and protecting the president, attacks the attackers while trying to find his little girl.
I enjoyed watching Cale and President Sawyer bond, although the screenplay has Foxx teetering on the line between movie-plausible president and flat-out action movie hero at times. Other cast members of note, by the way, include Richard Jennings as the Speaker of the House, James Woods as the Head of the Presidential Detail and Michael Murphy as the Vice-President. I enjoyed the escalating insanity and inanity. Most of all, I appreciated the fact that director Roland Emmerich (2012, Godzilla, Independence Day) managed to use his ham-handed technique to make the most entertaining, cheesy, dumb-ass movie of the summer ... so far.