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Movie review: ‘White House Down’

Posted 11:43pm on Thursday, Jun. 27, 2013

PG-13 (prolonged sequences of action and violence, intense gunfire and explosions, strong language, brief sexual image); 131 min.


There isn’t a landmark director Roland Emmerich hasn’t wanted to destroy. Over a career that has included Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, he has become architecture’s greatest enemy.

His latest, White House Down, is no exception, and the object of his ire this time is right in the title. Though, unfortunately for him, the minds behind Olympus Has Fallen got their panic-on-Pennsylvania Ave. film into theaters first.

That’s too bad, because WHD is one of Emmerich’s better films, having at least one intriguing element, a sense of humor and some stellar effects. The problem, though, as with every other Emmerich movie, is that the concept still overshadows the story.

Channing Tatum is John Cale, a war vet and Capitol cop who desperately wants to be a Secret Service agent but finds his way blocked by the woman in charge (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who tells him in his interview that he doesn’t have the education or experience. But, wouldn’t you know it, while on a White House tour with his precocious daughter (Joey King), a group of thugs storms the place, killing people, taking hostages and making demands.

Cale ends up being the only guy around who can get President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) to safety. Talk about turning a job-interview lemon into career-making lemonade. Along the way, Cale and the Prez re-enact every buddy movie they’ve seen while the most incompetent terrorists ever can’t seem to hit them despite clouds of gunfire.

What’s most interesting about WHD is how Emmerich and screenwriter James Vanderbilt envision the president. While most presidents in movies project a generic sense of authority, Sawyer most definitely channels Obama, right down to the Nicorette gum.

Still, despite some lightly comedic banter between Tatum and Foxx (who seems to be enjoying himself) and a sense of visual energy, the 131-minute WHD is hobbled by predictability and no real sense of threat. But that doesn’t matter. In Emmerich’s universe, no one ever went broke underestimating the world’s desire to see things go boom.

— Cary Darling

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