Roland Emmerich must really have it in for the White House. He had aliens blow it up in Independence Day, crashed an aircraft carrier into it in 2012 and now he’s had the whole place taken over by terrorists who have absolutely no respect for the building’s heritage status or priceless antiques. The upside of all this destruction is that Emmerich has had plenty of practice at it – and here he gets it just right. Not only that, but he pairs the explosive set pieces with a pitch-perfect comic script delivered by an excellent cast who all look like they’re having a whole lot of fun.
Channing Tatum plays a down-on-his luck security guard who, when the White House comes under attack, finds he is all that’s left standing between the president (Jamie Foxx) and a bunch of murderous terrorists. Like all the best action heroes who get stuck in buildings under siege, his name is John, and he eventually feels the need to strip down to an increasingly sweaty white vest. Parallels with Die Hard et al are inevitable, but the film deftly avoids toppling into tedious rip-off territory by keeping its tongue firmly in its cheek from start to finish.
The entire cast is on top form. Tatum’s perfect pecks and comic timing are a joy to watch, Jamie Foxx looks like he’s having a ball playing against type as the preppy, gun-fearing president, Maggie Gyllenhaal is compelling as ever as a workaholic Secret Service agent, and James Woods adds a touch of sneery gravitas as a delightfully old-school villain with equally old-school objectives. Even young Joey King, whose previous work includes small roles in Oz The Great And Powerful and The Conjuring, pulls off the impressive feat of not making Tatum’s precocious daughter Emily completely unbearable.
And then there’s the action which, after all, is why most people decide to watch a Roland Emmerich movie – and he doesn’t disappoint. There are explosions aplenty – the big domey bit on the White House gets it – lots and lots of big guns, and a thrilling, farcical car chase around the presidential gardens.
Reviewers who have hated White House Down – and there are a fair few – have accused it of being dumb and contrived. But it’s the fact that the film is so knowing in its silliness that, in this critic’s opinion, elevates it above many other action movies in the ‘let’s wreck stuff’ category, including most of Emmerich’s own back catalogue.