With an apocalyptic résumé that includes Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, Roland Emmerich is renowned as one of the biggest purveyors of over-the-top blockbuster mayhem. White House Down (2013) is very much in the same mould; loud and unabashedly dumb, it’s fun and forgettable popcorn fodder at its purest, all wrapped up in that now-familiar Die Hard framework. Channing Tatum plays John Cale, a Capitol Policeman who desperately wants to work for the Secret Service. Connecting with his estranged daughter Emily (Joey King), he brings her along to his White House interview.
However, when the building is overrun by a group of armed terrorists, it falls to Cale to prove his credentials first-hand by protecting the President (Jamie Foxx) and his beloved country. After an expository opening act, which features a knowing ID-4 reference for good measure, White House Down finds its groove once Tatum’s good-hearted Cale and Foxx’s Head of State team up. Well-executed set-pieces and obligatory one-liners swiftly follow, with the aforementioned duo’s repartee just enough to distract from the ever more ludicrous plot. It’s just as well, as if you did stop to think numerous questions would arise – the most glaring of which is that it’s never clear whether or not the terrorists are trying to kill or capture the Pres.
Although the political manoeuvrings behind the scenes give the film some serious moments, there’s no disguising the fact that this is another silly summer escapade. Thankfully all involved are in on the joke; 30-year veteran James Woods is engaging as the snarling villain of the piece, and King makes for a likeable teen (though her role in the finale is, it has to be said, utterly ridiculous). The rest of the impressive cast, which include recognisable faces such as Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Richard Jenkins, and Lance Reddick all provide reliable support.
While the film’s numerous background characters have undoubtedly been lifted from the Hollywood stockpile, Emmerich deserves credit for imbuing many of them with a dash of personality: whether it’s a sense of blind, unconditional loyalty or a simple love of Beethoven. That was an overlooked aspect of 2013’s other West Wing-based actioner, Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen, and while White House Down isn’t an out-and-out better film, it’s certainly more light-hearted than its counterpart – ultimately making it the more enjoyable watch.