United States Capitol Police officer John Cale (Channing Tatum) wants to be a member of the Secret Service. He pulls some strings to get an interview with Agent Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal), as well as White House passes for his politically obsessed daughter, Emily (Joey King). The interview doesn’t go well, and dejected Cale proceeds to go on the White House tour. While Emily is in the bathroom, a group of paramilitary terrorists, led by Emil Stenz (Jason Clarke), take over the White House and kidnap President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx). Cale breaks away from the tour, in order to look for Emily, but instead finds the hostage-taken President, and rescues him.
Remember how in “Die Hard” (1988) there was a highly trained “good guy” who ended up unexpectedly running loose around a building, thwarting the plans of a group of terrorists? “White House Down” is just a rip off of this same idea, only less entertaining. John Cale is a likable character that is easy to root for because of his free-spirited sense of humor and ability to kick any and every bad guy’s butt. Sure he lacks a little of the John McClane charm that Bruce Willis has been giving us for the last 25 years, but he does his best, and comes pretty close.
Jamie Foxx is underused as the President, and that is unfortunate. His humor is good and well delivered, despite the cheesy dialogue that he has been given. It’s also a much smaller part than he deserves because the film is overrun with a plethora of underdeveloped, uninteresting characters (including James Woods and Richard Jenkins, in addition to all the afore-mentioned names), who just take away from the action and the “buddy feel” that comes from having the two stars with spot-on chemistry together.
Roland Emmerich films have never been considered “cinematic masterpieces,” but I don’t think that’s bothering him. His movies, like “Independence Day” (1996), “The Day After Tomorrow” (2004) and “2012” (2009), are all effects laden films that have never put the focus on the story or the desire to focus on production quality. He is, however, continuously pushing the boundaries of visual effects, mostly through destruction, but in “White House Down” it almost seems as if something has been held back. Most of the action, the good action anyways, was in the trailer, and several times throughout the film it is obvious (too obvious) that everyone is standing on a stage with a screen behind them. It’s more reminiscent of Emmerich’s less than thrilling films, “Godzilla” (1998) and “10,000 BC” (2008).
I am aware that Emmerich understands that he’s not making a great film here, and it obviously isn’t bothering him that we all expect this kind of movie from him. But that shouldn’t excuse the blatant plot holes, lack of realism, or just the flat-out stupidity of the characters, including the villains. I don’t mind if you want to rip off “Die Hard,” but it’s important to remember that Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) was a highly entertaining, intelligent, sophisticated and well dressed villain, that you almost couldn’t help but love.