White House Down is the perfect example of a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Here bad guys are more goofy than menacing, the President of the United States wears Air Jordans, and even an 11-year-old girl gets to do her part in saving the day. It’s escapism taken to a limit just shy of farce, saved only by some compelling action sequences and the little details that parallel reality. Unfortunately, many parts of the film seem stubbornly campy, and moviegoers may find themselves giggling at the unintentional humor more than gasping at the more thrilling set pieces.
John Cale (Channing Tatum) is a Capitol policeman in Washington D.C. who aspires for a better life. He’s separated from his wife, his daughter Emily (Joey King) has no respect for him, and Cale is bored with his job. The most action he sees is pointing his service pistol at offending squirrels while he protects the Speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins). Because his daughter is a political junkie, Cale pulls some strings to get tickets for a tour of the White House with his daughter. On the same visit, Cale also interviews with Agent Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal) in order to join the Secret Service. Unfortunately, during the tour, the White House is taken over by armed men who capture the tourists, including Emily, but with designs on capturing the President (Jamie Foxx) as well. It’s up to Cale to stop the intruders, protect the President and Cale’s daughter, and somehow escape alive before the rest of the American government decides to weigh the safety of the country against the lives of everyone in the White House.
In all significant ways it’s impossible to separate White House Down from three specific films: Die Hard, The Rock, and, of course, Olympus Has Fallen. Any film that features a lone protagonist trapped inside a building with terrorists will always be compared to Die Hard, but White House Down seems to borrow more liberally from the film than most, featuring similar attire and iconic scenes, like a rooftop battle dodging fire from a helicopter. Yet, there are also echoes of The Rock, with its soldiers-turned-mercenaries angle, as well as its dramatic ending with jet fighters carrying out a grim task. The biggest comparison, of course, will be to Olympus Has Fallen, which is far and away the more serious of the two films, but otherwise is almost identical. Thankfully, there are just enough tweaks and rearranged details to make White House Down still worth watching.
White House Down strives to be more fun than anything else. While Cale is constantly in danger, audiences will never really worry about him. Even if viewers simply expect him to live because logic dictates he will in order for the movie to continue, moviegoers will never suffer watching Cale suffer, either physically or mentally in the way that John McClane suffered. The bad guys are so unintimidating that even a child has the guts to stand up to them. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to have a good time watching this film; it hearkens back to the action movies of the 80’s where everything tied up nicely. So when a character looks at his pocket watch and explains that he keeps it near his heart, audiences should expect that to be important information for later on.
While White House Down borders on the incredible, its clear references to the current political makeup of the United States government help keep the film grounded in reality. And while there aren’t any references to political parties, it’s obvious which characters are supposed to represent which real life people, with Jamie Foxx speaking in a clipped cadence and chewing on nicotine gum. Knowing that, the politics of the film become clear early on, and from there the movie regularly takes pot shots at political opponents. Yet, it’s so ham-fisted as to be comical, which is in line with much of the rest of the film, so the moments of political scoring don’t detract or add much (depending on political persuasion) from the simple enjoyment of watching the spectacle. It is a shame, however, that Foxx didn’t get to play President Obama outright since Foxx does a magnificent impersonation of him.
As an unlikely buddy cop movie, White House Down is a success. A lot of the dialogue and actions are surprisingly silly, but once audiences acclimate to the less serious tone, it’ll be hard not to have a good time. Who doesn’t want to see a US President who can kill bad guys with a machine gun, a rocket launcher or his feet and also deliver a speech without a teleprompter?