WHITE HOUSE DOWN
The DC Crime Ring Eats Its Own
Hollywood Can’t Help Taking Notice
Copycat redundancies to the recent “Olympus Has Fallen” aside, “White House Down” is an unintentionally laughable action movie that wallows in involuntary cynicism about how America — or screenwriter James Vanderbilt at least — views the White House as the world’s biggest crime ring. Buried in a shallow grave just beneath its veneer of absurdly cheesy Americana platitudes lays mocking subtext, twitching with spastic gestures and pointing awkwardly at a corrupt political system eating itself from the inside out.
U.S. President Jack William Sawyer (played by Jamie Foxx) can’t wait to explain his occupational predicament to the first pair of ears that comes along. “The first term is all about getting reelected,” he tells an upstart Secret Service agent before explaining that now, during his second term, he is finally ready to do something that will make a difference. Sound familiar? You’d think he was petitioning for single-term-limits for the Presidential office.
Interestingly, the ever-buff Channing Tatum dons the Edward Snowden mantle as John Cale [no, not the Welsh composer and musician of Velvet Underground fame, although that would have been interesting]. Like Snowden, Cale has a history of not finishing things — e.g., school. But our would-be Secret Service agent bodyguard has friends [mainly female] in high places. He went to college with White House Secret Service official Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal), one of President Sawyer’s right-hand agents. Still, when Cale arrives at the White House for a job interview with Agent Finnerty, with his 12-year-old daughter Emily (Joey King) in tow, she quickly gives him the thumbs-down — so much for friends in high places. Cale is a perfect outlier, ready to pounce for the true cause of liberty when he gets a chance.
On this particular day a crew of generic baddies sneak into the White House to hack into its computers, take hostages, and see how far down the line of presidential succession they can move the title of Commander-In-Chief. Naturally, Cale’s daughter falls into the hostage category while our able-bodied hero takes personal responsibility for getting the President out alive while all hell breaks out around them. You can’t help but transpose Barak Obama into Foxx’s character during goofy action sequences, as when Cale and President Sawyer climb up through an elevator shaft. The effect is mildly comical if only because it’s so hard to imagine Obama doing anything so remotely athletic and risky.
Although its plot gymnastics are idiotic to the point of parody, “White House Down” makes a smart point about how vicious, cunning, and vengeful America’s power-hungry politicians are. They all want to be king for a day, and don’t give a damn about how many civilians get crushed, punished, or put out of work and home in the process. The best thing this cinematic assault-on-the-senses has going for it is its title. Like Edward Snowden, America is on its own and there are very few places to hide.
Rated PG-13. 137 mins. (D+) (One Star - out of five/no halves)