Most White House action movies stretch the boundaries of reason, sacrificing the plausibility of a White House takeover for entertainment value. But Roland Emmerich’snewest doomsday movie, White House Down, combines the traditional violence, bribery and terrorist plots in a complex story that will leave viewers wondering if such an attack could happen.
John Cale (Channing Tatum), a Capitol policeman, tries to make up for being an absent father to his 11-year-old daughter (Joey King) by indulging her interest in politics. During a father-daughter trip to the White House, Caleinterviews for a job as a member of the Secret Service. Although he is denied, when a paramilitary group takes over, Cale finds that he is the only one in a position to protect President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx).
White House Down boasts a star-studded cast, and each actor pulls his or her own weight. Despite being criticized in the past for his flat character portrayals, Tatum executes his role as Officer Calewell, adding humor to a generally serious role. Foxx also balances the comedic and serious nature of his character, but the real star here is King. Recognized for her roles in Crazy, Stupid Love, The Dark Knight Rises and — for those of you who remember your Disney Channel days — The Suite Life of Zach and Cody, King handles her role with amazing control, balancing both the confidence of a precocious adolescent with the panic of a terrified pre-teen. The cast of White House Down has impressive chemistry, adding legitimacy to a film whose premise was slightly far-fetched.
Georgetown students and D.C. natives alike will enjoy seeing their stomping grounds on the big screen. As in most D.C.-based disaster movies, the camera loves showing the usual scenery of the monuments. But Emmerich also includes jokes that locals will appreciate, including a Black Hawk helicopter almost hitting the Chinatown gate and references to D.C.’s squirrel population.
In fact, the film incorporates plenty of light-hearted moments to provide comic relief from the rather violent storyline. Secret Service agents mention “tunnels JFK used to sneak Marilyn into the White House,” a high-speed car chase leaves donuts on the North Lawn and a few jokes about the president’s Air Jordan’s are thrown in for good measure. Despite the typical underground rooms with glowing computer screens, plenty of glamorized fight scenes and the gnawing conviction that Tatum should have been hit by at least one bullet by this point, White House Down was an enjoyable and largely believable film.
In addition to its main storyline, the film cleverly addresses important themes in American society today. White House Down touches on the suffering of military families and the danger of biased media and overexposure. Additionally, the affiliation of some of the film’s paramilitants with racial hate groups and the subtle racial commentary surrounding President Sawyer’s character are relatable to current events. Its modern relevance gives it a depth that may help distinguish it from more superficial disaster films that rely solely on special effects.
Overall, White House Down is an enjoyable movie with a dynamic plot that, apart from a few drawn-out fight scenes, makes its 131 minutes pass quickly. Some viewers may leave the theater planning for the apocalypse, but if they take away the true lesson of the movie, they should know that Channing Tatum is the only apocalypse preparation you need.