It’s about time. There’s a line in Roland Emmerich’s rip-roaring and irresistible action thriller “White House Down” that explains why Emmerich is so drawn to architectural mayhem and the sight of national monuments blown to smithereens.
There’s a point to all this it seems – a point, anyway, beyond instructing real terrorists how they might take the wind out of America’s sails (as some have accused the German transplant of doing). America, says a line in James Vanderbilt’s script, is bigger and more important than her buildings.
Even when the director is so merrily and memorably blowing up the White House in “Independence Day” that someone refers to it in this movie? Or subjecting landmarks and famous buildings to CGI bombardment in such movies as the “Godzilla” remake or his “2012” or “The Day After Tomorrow?”
Sure. It’s all, he now seems to say, because he so loves America the Beautiful – idea and spirit – that he wants to teach its citizens that their citizenship means so much more than their structures.
You know, for instance, just walking into an Emmerich movie called “White House Down” that by the time Emmerich’s movie is done with the president’s Pennsylvania Avenue digs, it will be quite a while before the next guide leads a gawking tour through the joint.
Whatever else they are, Emmerich’s movies are uniquely enjoyable in their notably unfortunate chaos-loving way. (Even when he moves off of landmark buildings and national monuments, you’ll find him, say, marauding cultural monuments like, say, the reputation of William Shakespeare in the surprisingly enjoyable “Anonymous” which actually made a worthy movie out of the usually worthless idea that William Shakespeare didn’t write William Shakespeare.)
“White House Down” – which is one of a few hundred imitations of “Die Hard” since John McTiernan’s influential original – is one of Emmerich’s best and most wildly entertaining action thrillers. It’s about what happens when a Secret Service wannabe and his adorable, history geek 12-year-old daughter take the White House tour and find themselves smack in the middle of a hostage crisis and an armed takedown of the whole joint, complete with a malevolent mega-hacker trying to take control of the whole government.
They’re all freaks, psychos and hirelings of the uber-bad guy whose identity is supposedly a surprise. Heaven forbid that I be careless with “spoilers” but any relatively experienced moviegoer watching this thing knows that when an old man pointedly leaves his American flag lapel pin off his jacket and says “goodbye” to his wife (rather than “see you tonight”), something is up.
And when you’ve got a president – as you do here – who wants to bring home all troops currently in the Middle East, you know that “hostiles” in American government and business will include a lot of folks with fancy titles.
So it isn’t hard to guess what’s coming in “White House Down,” but none of that could possibly get in the way of your having a great old time laughing heartily and thrilling to this movie. I don’t expect to be having more fun this summer at a blockbuster than I did here (and compared, say, to the minimal enjoyment I derived from the bullying thunder of “Man of Steel,” this movie was like a paid vacation).
Are you ready for Channing Tatum getting top billing over Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx in this movie? Well, he does. Tatum plays the would-be Secret Service guardian and Foxx plays his president. It’s Tatum, of course, who takes his government-freak daughter (Joey King) for the White House tour.
You know – where you learn how many floors the White House has (six), how many bathrooms (35), all that.
Foxx is a POTUS and former academic who can never resist asking the pilot of the White House chopper to make one more turn around the Lincoln Memorial before landing on the White House’s South Lawn helipad.
A nice little grace note from Emmerich and the script, that.
And then the bad guys have their way. As a diversion they blow up the Capitol rotunda, thereby giving Emmerich a chance to show angry smoke and fire exploding and belching out of the Capitol dome. It’s deeply unfortunate, given the way history has proceeded, that Emmerich has taught Americans to enjoy such fantasy sights so much but taught them he has.
With that distracting everyone, the marauders take everyone in the White House – the real target – hostage.
All except the elusive president, the Secret Service aspirant to his detail and the aspirant’s ever resourceful and gutsy little daughter. Our Ultra-Brave Dad and his equally brave kid aren’t captured and, in fact, turn out to be the nation’s house’s first line of defense against an unusually psycho and unpleasant bunch of despoilers.
Before it’s over, there’s lots of bulletry and rooms going “boom.” To enhance your enjoyment of this movie’s thuggishly playful spirit, check out the names of the characters as they fly by – John Cale (Remember the Velvet Underground?) as the president’s guardian, a Speaker of the House named Raphelson. (Change the ph to an F and you’ve got the name of the inventor of The Monkees and director of “Five Easy Pieces.”) You know that the writer was signaling how much fun he had writing.
You’ll return the favor watching it, believe me.
White house down
Three and a half stars (Out of four)
Starring: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, James Woods, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Joey King, Richard Jenkins.
Director: Roland Emmerich
Running time: 140 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for intense action and some rough language.
The Lowdown: Marauders take the White House hostage during the visit of a Secret Service wannabe and his young, gutsy, government geek daughter. email: firstname.lastname@example.org