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White House Down
June 26, 2013

White House Down movie poster

I got to see White House Down last night, and it was exactly what I expected: a summer thrill ride with plenty of explosions, likable actors doing heroic things, and enough humor to keep it all fun.

Jamie Foxx plays President James Sawyer, while Channing Tatum is a police officer applying for a Secret Service job. He’s turned down — because he went to college with the hiring manager, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and she has concerns about his ability to follow through — but winds up taking the White House tour with his daughter, Emily (Joey King). She loves politics and has her own YouTube channel on the subject.

When terrorists capture the White House, with the President inside, Tatum’s character has to rescue him, find his daughter, and get everyone out safely. Notable additional performances come from James Woods (Secret Service head), Nicolas Wright (as “Donnie the Guide”, whose tour rapidly gets out of control), Richard Jenkins (Tatum’s boss; note that his typical typecasting gave away a plot point to my husband), and Jimmi Simpson (hacker supreme, known to me from Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter).

Jamie Foxx as the President in White House Down

Jamie Foxx as the President in White House Down

It’s Tatum who made me want to see this movie while skipping the earlier, similarly themed Olympus Has Fallen. I like Channing as a good-natured grunt a lot more than Gerard Butler, who starred in the other one. Tatum does humor and action well, as I found from 21 Jump Street. Here, he sometimes seems like an overwhelmed nice guy, a role many can relate to. I couldn’t relate to his ability to keep outrunning bullets, but it’s all part of the action movie expectations.

I had several “refrigerator moments” — those times where, after the film when you’re getting a snack, you think “wait a minute, why…” — including wondering just how likely an 11-year-old political nerd was. Are there any White House geeks of that age? More concerning to the plot was my confusion over just why it was so important for the plot to keep the President alive, but ultimately, it doesn’t matter. The ride was the important thing, and I enjoyed taking it.

James Woods in White House Down

James Woods in White House Down

Since it’s directed by Roland Emmerich (Independence Day), you won’t be surprised to hear that it’s completely predictable in its beats and what happens when. That’s the appeal of formula entertainment. You know what you’re going to get, and the pleasure comes in seeing it all work out as intended. There’s plenty of tension, lots of destruction, a bunch of meaningless deaths, and the requisite wisecracks. The laugh lines hit just right, particularly for me, when Gyllenhaal says, in response to the question, “How are you still awake?” answers, “Caffeine and patriotism, sir.”

Maggie Gyllenhaal in White House Down

Maggie Gyllenhaal in White House Down

If I stopped to think about it, I’d be concerned that the movie seems to want to inspire by showing the destruction of as many national treasures as possible, but I was distracted by the twists and turns. There’s a lot packed in here, from politics (of national, international, and business kinds) to hacking to hostage-taking to caper-like scheme-plotting to finally, the threat of a worldwide nuclear war, which I found an odd throwback to the 80s. In spite of all the modern (sometimes artificial-looking) special effects and high-tech weapons, it was also old school in that everything frequently came down to a fist fight. The acting sometimes seemed stiff or overwrought, but isn’t that part of the genre as well?

Nicolas Wright, Joey King, and Channing Tatum in White House Down

Nicolas Wright, Joey King, and Channing Tatum in White House Down

Given the high demand for this showing — I’d guess at least twice as many people showed up as would fit in the theater — I suspect this movie will be deservedly popular. I did wonder, a bit, if a movie about people blowing up a White House with a black President inside might attract the wrong kind of viewer, but that’s probably paranoia. I found it just the right kind of action blockbuster, one that satisfies without being too challenging.

White House Down opens on Friday, June 28. (It’s a Columbia Pictures release, and Columbia is a division of Sony, and I work for another piece of Sony.) Strangely, the official website suggests the Twitter tag #WhiteHouseDown, while the showing suggested #WHD (which is nicely economical). This social media stuff is confusing.

6 Responses  
Augie De Blieck Jr. writes:  

I was a political geek starting at the age of 11 or 12. If YouTube was available to me back in the late 80s, though, I’m not sure if I would have had my own channel, though. (I did call into a local political talk radio show a couple of times. They love putting kids on who think they know it all. It’s so cute. ;-)

So it’s possible, I suppose, for that kid to be a political junkie. Heck, I have a 7 year old nephew who’s an expert on infectious diseases. It takes all kinds. ;-)

 
Johanna writes:  

Oh, Augie, you’re exceptional in so many ways. :) But yeah, when kids seize on something, they really grab hold.

 
David Oakes writes:  

I too was worried what two films of this stripe said about the current political climate. But then I realized that nearly every “Big Concept” – and quite a few little ones as well – for the last three years has had two films come out back to back. So I am blaming it on Capitalism, not Conservatism.

(The classic of the genre, “Suddenly” was 1954, during the Eisenhower admin. Though Sinatra later pinned it to the Kennedy assassination. Still, it might be interesting to track these sorts of films through the zeitgeist.)

 
Johanna writes:  

I’m not familiar with Suddenly.

If we’re talking about the zeitgeist, it makes perfect sense for people to be worried about not feeling safe in their own homes, even in the most secure house in America, and so maybe the proper comparison is movies like The Purge, Paranormal Activity, Safe Room, and the like.

 
David Oakes writes:  

Frank Sinatra plans to kill the President at a whistle stop in the town of Suddenly.

But it is also a Home Invasion, because the home of a pacifist widow is the perfect place to set up. So you may be on to something with the “If even the President isn’t safe, how can we be?” zeitgeist.

(It is also being remade with Ray Liotta, directed by Ewe Boll, and comes out in August. So score another one for Capitalism.)

 
Kat Kan writes:  

I used to debate politics with a couple of classmates during lunch recess back when I was in 7th grade, but that was a long time ago when all we had was TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines. I think a young political junkie/blogger isn’t that far off the mark, although I must say none of my middle school students are at all interested in politics.

 
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