Roland Emmerich seems to have a thing for the destruction of U.S. monuments, often in the most epic ways imaginable. White House Down continues the ongoing cinematic attack on the White House, after this year's Olympus Has Fallen, and fits right in with all the summer movies that signaled apocalyptic, world-ending catastrophes.
Unlike Olympus Has Fallen, however, or even last spring's Man of Steel, Emmerich is a guy who's always in on the joke, and the same usually goes for the people in his movies, most of them never forgetting to crack wise every other second even as they're running for their lives. Or, in this case, as the president of the United States sticks his head out of a speeding limousine to shoot a rocket launcher at terrorists on the White House roof. Yes, that is as ridiculous as it sounds, and you better believe that Emmerich knows it. This is an extraordinarily silly movie and so incredibly over the top that I have to admit the ludicrous nature of events was consistently entertaining, if not for one second remotely plausible. But just because I wasn't bored doesn't mean I can recommend it.
What this movie wants to be is kind of a throwback to the '80s and '90s action movies where a human everyguy hero (rather than a super one) steps up and saves the day. In fact there are a number of direct nods to DIe Hard specifically, as Channing Tatum plays former marine John Cale who applies and is rejected for a presidential secret service position, only to be thrown into the job haphazardly when right wing psychopaths take over the White House and threaten the president while he's on a tour of the building with his daughter. Now he's got to protect the president and rescue his kid, while navigating his way around the invaders- so he's essentially in the Bruce Willis role, and for good measure they even get him into a wife-beater for half the movie.
Tatum is actually pretty good in the film, and he possesses a lot of charisma as he portrays a fundamentally decent, good natured everyman in crisis, and Jamie Foxx also does a good job underplaying as Obama-like president James Sawyer, who's peace plan to pull all our troops out of the middle east (talk about a liberal pipe dream) rattles the defense industries and their right wing allies, including those in Congress, who respond by taking up arms against the president. It can't help but draw comparison to our current political climate, even in this insanely exaggerated metaphor, but a black president under full blown attack by white supremacists and war crazy neo-conservatives is a scenario that's striving to make some kind of a statement, wouldn't you say?
But any underlying themes are never pushed very far, as this movie is mostly about explosions and watching every single part of the White House get destroyed, whether by bullets, fire, rocket launchers, missiles, exploding cars, you name it. It's ridiculously over the top and might be more of a guilty pleasure if it wasn't for that fact that everything looked so fake! And this really bothered me- the backgrounds in this movie are clearly phony- every time someone is outside you can see rear projection behind them, including driving scenes and fights atop the White House roof. It's so distracting that the only time you can't see it is when Cale and President Sawyer are inside the building trying to get away through the elevator shafts and basement tunnels. That's just poor filmmaking and there's no excuse for the effects being so cheap (and if Roland Emmerich, the director of Independence Day is known for anything, it's usually not bad special effects).
All in all, the cheap production values and insanely nutty plot turns (this is a movie where the office of the presidency actually gets handed off three times in one day) make this film hilariously awful and weirdly entertaining at the same time. Kind of a mixed bag, but is it worth it even for die hard Channing Tatum fans? Nah.