“Tatum and Foxx Bring Down the House”

“White House Down”
Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx
Directed by Roland Emmerich

The people of the free world certainly didn’t need two big-budget action movies about a terrorist attack on the White House. In fact, I’m pretty sure they didn’t even need one of them, but now that there are two to choose from, there’s no question that “White House Down” is the lesser of two evils when compared to last spring’s mediocre “Olympus Has Fallen,” if for no other reason than it fully embraces its preposterous air of absurdity and ends up being a damn good time because of it.

Sure, both movies are blatant rip-offs of the whole “Die Hard” one-man-against-an-army concept, but where the R-rated “Olympus Has Fallen” was violent to a disturbing effect and featured Scottish actor Gerard Butler doing a laughably bad American accent, the PG-13-rated “White House Down” revels in its silly nonsense and succeeds in turning Channing Tatum into Hollywood’s newest action hero.

And who better to wreak havoc on the nation’s capital than director Roland Emmerich, who previously destroyed the White House with one fell swoop in 1996’s “Independence Day” (a scene that lends itself to one of the movie’s best in-jokes). But while there’s something to be said about exploiting the still-unnerving images of 9/11 for the sake of a popcorn-minded summer blockbuster, Emmerich keeps the tone so cheesy and rousing that, in the end, it’s kind of hard to resist.

Tatum plays John Cale, an ex-soldier and divorced father who takes his young daughter (Joey King) to the White House, where he is up for a job with the Secret Service. But soon after he is turned down, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is attacked by a heavily-armed paramilitary group with a bone to pick against President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx). Now Cale has to prove himself by saving both his daughter and the President before the government falls into total chaos.

Thanks to modern disaster epics like “Independence Day,” “The Day After Tomorrow” and “2012,” it’s pretty obvious that Roland Emmerich likes to destroy world-famous landmarks in the most sensational way possible. To that extent, “White House Down” represents something of an “intimate” film by his standards, since most of the action (and there’s a lot of it) takes place in one location.

But let’s not kid ourselves here; Emmerich still knows how to make a mighty big mess of things, and he does that as much as his $140 million production budget will allow, much to the chagrin of a devoted tour guide (played to a humorous effect by Nicholas Wright). After a number of machine gun fights fill the White House with more holes than a piece of Swiss cheese, the proceedings get more monotonous as the movie veers off into “Air Force One” territory and drags on for an overlong 2 hours and 17 minutes.

Adding to the cheese factor is the dialogue, and screenwriter James Vanderbilt (“The Amazing Spider-Man”) supplies the characters with some corny one-liners that are, for better or worse, sure to leave the most lasting impression. That gives Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx a lot of fun banter to work with, but it also reveals the shortcomings of the movie’s failed attempt to give baddie James Woods (who plays the outgoing head of the Secret Service) an intelligent motive to carry out his attack on the White House.

But back to that whole “Die Hard” thing. Where “Olympus Has Fallen” was practically a point-for-point rip-off of the Bruce Willis action classic, “White House Down” is just as guilty for shamelessly depicting Tatum as a Willis clone, right down to the spikey hair and stained white wife-beater shirt. But since he and Jamie Foxx have great chemistry, “White House Down” is filled with enough humor and action to fit the bill as Roland Emmerich’s best movie since “Independence Day.”

That’s all fine and dandy, but enough with the high-concept White House movies. I’m pretty sure that the last thing the people of the free world need is a sequel.

-Scott Mantz