It’s hard to believe that it has been almost 20 years since Roland Emmerich first destroyed the White House in 1996’s Independence Day. Even all these years later, it’s still pretty shocking to see the White House under attack in a movie, and who better to do it than the master of disaster (movies), Roland Emmerich. Of course, Emmerich has claimed that 2009’s 2012 was his last disaster picture, so with White House Down we get a chamber piece hostage film — at least relative to the other films from a man who has made a career out of global-scale destruction and mayhem.
As the second film of 2013 to center around the White House being under attack (the other being Olympus Has Fallen), it is somewhat difficult to determine what kind of movie the filmmakers set out to make. Part buddy-cop, part hostage film, part spectacle, White House Down seems to want to be about the characters, but just can’t resist turning its focus towards impressive explosions and threats of nuclear war. This identity crisis is what keeps the film from being the fun ride we’ve come to expect from Emmerich and company, destruction and all.
For better and for worse, the central characters of White House Down are the President, played by Jamie Foxx, and the impromptu Secret Service agent protecting him, played by Channing Tatum. Looking back at the various successes of Emmerich’s career, there has always been a mismatched pairing at the center, providing great chemistry, humor, and tension, continued here with the book-smart POTUS and his streetwise body guard. Unfortunately, these characters just don’t have the spark needed to keep things together. Of course we only expect so much character development from a summer action flick, but there just wasn’t the chemistry nor the snappy dialogue that really brings the fun to a film like this.
Perhaps the intended central relationship was meant to be between Channing Tatum and his daughter, with whom he’s attempting to build a relationship. Just as they start to bond over a tour of the White House however, she gets taken hostage, leaving her diamond-in-the-rough hero father to come to her rescue. While this may have made for a compelling story line, she simply gets forgotten in lieu of a good shootout. And while Tatum’s daughter does show up plenty to move the story along, Jamie Foxx seems to have no motivation beyond simply being the President, with his family barely existing at all. All of this adds up to leave us with a film with no motivation other than knowing that we don’t want the bad guys to win.
What does hold White House Down together is a hearty dose of slick, impressive action. Sure we may not have the lovable, endearing characters or emotionally captivating motivations, but if Roland Emmerich can be counted on for one thing, it’s action that grabs your attention. Whether it’s the Capital Building exploding or Air Force One getting blown apart, you can’t help but sit up and pay attention at the sheer spectacle, not to mention, who doesn’t love a few dozen people running around with machine guns with unlimited ammo. It may require dialing down your thinking cap and ignoring some basic physics here and there, but sometimes that can be just what the doctor ordered.
With White House Down, Roland Emmerich made one thing clear — while he may be done with disaster movies, he is certainly not done with action and spectacle. Though it may not be chock full of the charm or smarts, White House Down still has enough life to be a satisfying summer flick.
My Rating: 2.5 Stars