Roland Emmerich sure has an edifice complex: The filmmaker who severed the Statue of Liberty in The Day After Tomorrow, pulverized Manhattan in Godzilla and dive-bombed the White House in Independence Day is back for another shot at the president's abode. Following Olympus Has Fallen, White House Down is the second movie this year that has as its premise the takeover and destruction of the White House -- and the similarities don't end there. I don't pretend to know whether this redundancy is mere coincidence or a window into the cultural zeitgeist, but I do know this: Laying waste to the White House is certain to sell a lot of popcorn.
Although it doesn't have the verve that makes Independence Day a holiday classic, White House Down has enough tension, humor and calamitous action to ensure it a berth in the summer box-office sweepstakes. Channing Tatum comes into his own as a leading man, proving himself an agile action star and not just the pure beefcake of Magic Mike. He plays John Cale, a Capitol cop and ex-military man who now wants to join the Secret Service. Coincidence places him in the White House for an interview with Special Agent Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal, who looks too much like a 98-pound weakling to be a chief of presidential security) at the exact moment the initial assault occurs. Also present is Cale's adolescent daughter Emily (Joey King), whose affection he is trying to win. Like the protagonists in Olympus Has Fallen and Die Hard, Cale is a lone hero, succeeding with pure pluck where scores of others have fallen.
As President Sawyer, Jamie Foxx shares President Obama's resume: He's a liberal academic who's the father of a teenage girl. Unlike the North Korean bad guys in Olympus Has Fallen, the villains here are an interesting but not-quite-probable collection of American insurrectionists ranging from white supremacists to political dissidents to inside operators. (In a devious turn, the head of this renegade militia is played by Jason Clarke, who portrayed the chief military torturer in Zero Dark Thirty.) But the real enemy, we are told, is the conveniently faceless "military-industrial complex."
Many of White House Down's details don't hold up to scrutiny (like how a bomb could be smuggled into the White House in the first place), but the film moves at a good clip, features catchy banter and showcases two likable leads. It's safe to say that John Cale passed his Secret Service exam.