After briefly sidestepping into more artsy territory with the widely panned Anonymous, Roland Emmerich comes back full force with White House Down, an over-the-top explosion-fest that flopped spectacularly upon its release in America. It’s dumb and predictable, sure, but unlike Olympus Has Fallen, this year’s other White House-set Die Hard parody, White House Down embraces its ridiculousness – a feat that mostly works in its favour.
Capitol policeman Cale (Channing Tatum) has long dreamt of becoming a Secret Service agent. So, when an interview opportunity at the White House presents itself, he decides to take estranged daughter Emily (Joey King) with him as a way of winning her over. However, once inside, his plans are ruined when a group of heavily armed terrorists overtake the White House and take Emily hostage, leaving him to try and save her, while also escorting President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) to safety.
In a year of increasingly darker, more hard-edged and grounded blockbusters, White House Down is novel in its lighter, breezier nature. After a necessarily protracted initial setup, realism and a believable narrative are thrown out of the window by screenwriter James Vanderbilt in favour of an idiotic, tongue-in-cheek tone that’s echoed by the corny dialogue and ironic one-liners that puncture the ensuing, ever-mounting chaos.
And that chaos is, as always in an Emmerich film, outrageously overblown. There’s explosions, car chases and fist fights aplenty, and the beloved White House is, once more, blown to smithereens from the inside out. It’s masterful to watch, especially considering most of it was filmed against a green screen. It helps matters, too, that Tatum and Foxx have such satisfying chemistry, and their fight for survival is kept front and centre.
It’s cheesy and full-on in terms of laughable American patriotism, but if audiences are willing to ignore that and abandon of all sense of logic (there are abandoned sub-plots, one-note characters and unanswered questions left, right and centre), then White House Down is a blast in terms of sheer escapism. It’s far more in line with what a blockbuster should be than, say, Olympus Has Fallen, and only furthers Emmerich’s dominance of the mindless blow-things-up genre.