I’m not sure if director Roland Emmerich is simply stricken with the dumbest scripts floating around Hollywood, or if his is just the kind of talent that manages to boil a screenplay down to its stupidest elements. Either way, Emmerich has made yet another half-witted motion picture — the kind of senseless summer movie that couldn’t find it’s own backside with two hands and a flashlight. Occasionally, this kind of thing can be entertaining. Emmerich’s 10,000 B.C. (2008), with its Egypt full of pyramid-building woolly mammoths, is a good example of a film so harebrained and preposterous that it’s accidentally entertaining. White House Down, on the other hand, is just more disaster porn in a movie-going season already overflowing with it. That its money shots are much more focused on a single location and, I assume, a very specific audience that wants to see every room in The White House intimately shot up, maimed, blown up and set aflame isn’t exactly progress — and a plot that’s predictable, silly and awkwardly staged certainly doesn’t help.
With this much property damage, gunfights and even a car chase on the White House lawn, it’s surprising how leftist the movie’s views are. Here we have President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) under siege by a grab bag of the greatest hits of right-wing extremists — some white supremacists, a handful of mercenaries and a crypto-anarchist hacker. Their motivation is partly because of the president’s views, but also because of a planned peace treaty that’ll put a dent in the bank accounts of the military industrial complex. For a film touting a vaguely pacifist message, there sure is an insanely high body count, as Mr. President and John Cale (Channing Tatum) — a would-be Secret Service Agent and bargain-bin John McClane — fight their way Die Hard-style through the White House. All this to save both the American Way and Cale’s liberty-loving, literally flag-waving daughter (Joey King, Oz the Great and Powerful) from an apparent evil mastermind played by James Woods. Woods’ motivation stems from his dead son, his own jingoistic politics and a fit of cancer — that last makes this the second best movie where James Woods gets a brain tumor (see 1983’s Videodrome).
That it’s better than this year’s earlier White House action flick Olympus Has Fallen says little, since Emmerich’s film at least attempts to have a sense of humor, and Tatum is leagues above Gerard Butler as far as talent and onscreen appeal go. Really, the only thing keeping this thing watchable is the charisma of its cast. Tatum and Foxx play off each other nicely, though the enjoyable quality of their back-and-forth is due more to their own individual, affable onscreen presences than the screenplay by James Vanderbilt (The Amazing Spider-Man), which is piled high with goofy dialogue, hoary one-liners, plotholes and twists you can see coming from the first reel.
On top of this, the film climbs all over itself to get progressively more stupid, preposterous and nonsensical. That’s a dangerous combination, as Emmerich has an entire filmography that illustrates his poor judgment concerning what is and isn’t too idiotic to leave in a major motion picture. There are seeds of a decent, fun action movie buried inside White House Down, but you’ve got to dig through a lot of thick-headedness to find them. Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action and violence, including intense gunfire and explosions, some language and a brief sexual image.