‘White House Down’ is crazy cousin of ‘Olympus Has Fallen’

Channing Tatum is seen in a rare fully clothed moment in "White House Down." Credit: Reiner Bajo
Channing Tatum has a rare fully clothed moment in “White House Down.”
Credit: Reiner Bajo

‘White House Down’
Director: Roland Emmerich
Stars: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx
Rating: PG-13
3 (out of 5) Globes

Obama has had it tough lately, but at least he looks good on film. In “White House Down,” the second presidential “Die Hard” jaunt in the last four months, POTUS is James Sawyer, a liberal trying to establish peace in the Middle East. He’s a Lincolnian who talks about feeding the hungry and covertly chomps down on Nicorette. He’s also played by an Oscar-winner (Jamie Foxx). Not since Harrison Ford thwarted Russian hijackers on Clinton’s watch in “Air Force One” has a sitting prez been treated so nobly by the movies.

The baddies, who take over the White House, are Sawyer/Obama’s critics: militia types, far-right talk radio fans, old bigots (their ringleader is 66-year-old James Woods.) But he’s not the hero. As in “Olympus Has Fallen,” that role goes to a would-be secret service star, played by a tank-topped Channing Tatum and named John Cale.

That he shares a name with the Velvet Underground violist is not the silliest thing in the film. Things start out in classically clean action movie form, with John Cale, an ex-soldier out to prove his mettle, rescuing Sawyer early but still trapped inside the world’s most protected house. Around the time of a surreal and protracted car chase around the modest confines of the White House lawn, complete with rocket launchers, logic goes out the window.

Say what you will about “Olympus Has Fallen,” but it was relatively lean and tried to make a kind of sense. This one, only “Independence Day” director Roland Emmerich’s third time messing up the White House, is the crazier cousin — the “Armageddon” to its “Deep Impact. (Whether the world would be better off without either is somewhat worth asking.) It conforms to modern blockbuster language by losing itself to insane, inexplicable spectacle. Given the reckless way they act, our heroes (and screenwriter James Vanderbilt) often seem to forget about all the hostages, including John Cale’s young, persnickety daughter (Joey King).

This is dumb cinema writ in the largest letters possible. No one’s taking it seriously and everyone (well, maybe not a weary Richard Jenkins, as speaker of the House) seems to be having a good time. Tatum may be built out of bricks, but he’s become increasingly goofy; note that he was last seen as Danny McBride’s gimp in “This Is the End.” He’s yet another John McClane, but he’s no superhero. Even as Tatum gets dirtier and less clothed, he keeps undercutting the stock heroics by tossing off lines and amping up his bumbling behavior. He saves the day and, up to a point, the movie.


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