Not content with decimating the White House in his 1996 sci-fi blockbuster Independence Day, director Roland Emmerich reduces the Washington landmark to rubble again in this preposterous, high-octane action thriller.
White House Down is an all guns blazing tale of gung-ho heroism and flag-waving patriotism which unfolds during a terrorist attack on the US president’s iconic seat of power.
The similarities to Olympus Has Fallen starring Gerard Butler are inescapable. On the surface, the two films follow the same narrative trajectory, pitting a single man against hordes of gun-toting adversaries on a suicide mission to rescue the stricken president from diabolical captors.
Both films cower in the shadow of nuclear Armageddon but White House Down boasts more creativity with its protracted action sequences, including a hysterically overblown car chase around the grounds of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue replete with the president leaning out of a moving vehicle armed with a rocket launcher.
John Cale (Channing Tatum) is an ex-soldier, who is assigned to protect Speaker Of The House, Eli Raphelson (Richard Jenkins), when he would much rather be part of the Secret Service detail protecting President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx).
An interview for promotion conducted by Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal) goes badly and John licks his wounds by joining his daughter Emily (Joey King) on a guided tour of the White House just as a heavily armed paramilitary group led by Emil Stenz (Jason Clarke) prepares to take control of the building.
A devastating blast beneath the rotunda of the US Capitol signals the start of the hostilities and Stenz and his men sweep through rooms and corridors, shooting guards until the perimeter and hostages are secure.
With the president’s life in the balance, vice-president Alvin Hammond (Michael Murphy) takes to the skies with his team aboard Air Force One. On the ground, Carol and her team including General Caulfield (Lance Reddick) discuss a military solution to the crisis. Meanwhile, John does what any father would to protect his tearful daughter: he grabs a gun and single-handedly takes on the bad guys.
What White House Down lacks in subtlety, it compensates with knucklehead, adrenaline-pumping thrills and spills. Screenwriter James Vanderbilt provides director Emmerich with the full array of cliches and contrivances, including a cherubic child in peril and at least one traitor in the upper echelons of power.
Channing dodges bullets and certain death at every explosive turn while Foxx manages to retain his presidential cool in the face of extreme provocation. They share winning screen chemistry.
As long as you disengage your brain from any thought processes for two hours, Emmerich’s picture is entertaining popcorn fodder that is forgotten well before the end credits finish scrolling.