Roland Emmerich must harbor some strange obsession with the White House, because he has now destroyed it, by my count, on three occasions: In a burst of alien lasers in Independence Day (1996), swept away by a beautifully-rendered tidal wave in 2012 (2009), and now – in what for Emmerich nearly passes for restraint – in White House Down, chipped away gradually in a hail of fists, explosives and small arms fire.
The film is textbook Emmerich fare: A light family drama interwoven with an implausible but digestible thriller that unfolds as cartoonish stock characters punch, sneak, rampage and quip through bright set pieces – here, again, the White House and grounds, the destruction of which Emmerich for the first time draws out from a throwaway effects binge to a feature-length caper. White House Down doesn’t break any new ground, but it doesn’t need to; like 2012, its modest runtime passes in a dreamy, upbeat fantasy space where the laws of physics are relaxed and little thought is given to consequences. I’ll watch it again, on home release, preferably inebriated.
Emmerich has cast a black President before, and Jamie Foxx is almost certainly less presidential and more entertaining in the role than Danny Glover. The filmmakers don’t seem sure whether they’re satirizing, referencing, or ignoring Obama (Foxx fumbles around packets of Nicorette in a Presidential bedroom drawer) and there are more than a few moments of racial discomfort (in another, his hand hovers over a pair of formal shoes before settling on Air Jordans) but Foxx’s timing is impeccable, and he works well with costar Channing Tatum.
If Emmerich doesn’t know what to make of a black President, his progressive politics only get hazier as the plot comes into focus. Newscasters initially blame White House attack on Al-Qaeda, but it turns out to be curiously dead-eyed right wing extremists, who are in cahoots with a sinister – if nebulous – military industrial complex that’s unhappy with President Foxx’s plan to pull troops out of the Middle East, either because they’re dangerous nationalists, or greedy capitalists. Don’t think too hard about it.
It should be mentioned that Olympus Has Fallen, which came out recently and which I have not seen, appears to be extremely similar in concept, but probably more by coincidence and shared Air Force One (1997) DNA than by any mockbuster aspirations.
Nicolas Wright and Joey King deserve special mention, as a fussy White House tourguide and Tatum’s politically earnest pre-teen daughter.
I’m biased in favor of Emmerich’s better-funded stuff, with the exception, I suppose, of the execrable 10,000 Years B.C. (2006) and the boring and nonsensical The Day After Tomorrow (2004). White House Down is nutritionally sparse, but it delivers a familiar flavor in spades.