We get the political thrillers we deserve.
White House Down, a silly but serviceable popcorn movie, stars broad-shouldered, jug-eared Channing Tatum (G.I. Joe: Retaliation) as the unlikely agent who must save POTUS from the deadly brutes storming the Oval Office. (Yes, the plot is strikingly similar to the recent Olympus Has Fallen starring Gerard Butler.) Feeling vulnerable, are we?
Jamie Foxx plays the president who has infuriated the country's powerful hawkish elements with his bold peace plan for the Mideast. Foxx embraces the character of the prim, professorial politician - for about 10 minutes. Then in a moment of ludicrous symbolism, he kicks off his wingtips, laces up some high-top Nikes, and starts talking trash and heaving hand grenades.
Sturm-und-drang director Roland Emmerich (The Day After Tomorrow; Independence Day) spends a lot of time at the outset establishing the rigorous, redundant security measures at 1600 Pennsylvania - for everyone but a sinister group of workmen who waltz through the surveillance gauntlet carrying toolboxes full of weapons and ammo. Apparently wearing a pair of coveralls with a name tag makes you invisible.
It so happens that just as violent mayhem breaks out, Tatum's underachieving policeman is taking a White House tour with his annoyingly precocious 11-year-old daughter (Joey King, of Ramona and Beezus). Fortunately for the republic, Tatum is carrying a cellphone and a loaded pistol.
The long siege that follows is very much like Die Hard With a Hostage, as one trigger-happy maverick repeatedly thwarts the dastardly foolproof plan of the villains. Like Bruce Willis' John McClane in all those Die Hard films, Tatum's John Cale quickly strips down to a sleeveless white undershirt when the bodies start flying.
Beneath all the gunsmoke, this can be enjoyed simply as a display of hammy actors desperately seeking more scenery to devour. It's lucky White House Down isn't 3-D or Foxx, the always rapacious James Woods, Justified's Kevin Rankin in a remarkable turn as a racist Rambo, Jason Clarke, and Jimmi Simpson (Lyle the Intern on Letterman!) would come through the camera and chew on your face.
Woefully miscast in this omnivorous exhibition is Maggie Gyllenhaal as the Secret Service officer who not only travels everywhere with the president, but also interviews every sad-sack applicant to the service. Gyllenhaal is a drama anorexic. She reacts to the violent overthrow of the government with all the emotion of a suburban matron whose tennis lesson has been postponed.
Emmerich handles the compulsories (aircraft, gunfire, crashes, and explosions) well. But the sporadic attempts at levity are weak (with the exception of a sound gag at the end that uses "Spanish Flea" by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass).
The main flaw of White House Down is that it overstays its welcome, thanks in large part to a silly climax that seems to unfold in three laborious acts. At least, Tatum keeps his shirt off.
White House Down ** (out of four stars)
Directed by Roland Emmerich. With Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, James Woods, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, and Joey King. Distributed by Columbia Pictures.
Running time: 2 hours, 11 mins.
Parent's guide: PG-13 (violence, profanity, adult themes)
Playing at: area theaters