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White House Down

Every day it seems we hear of figurative attacks on the White House that might be politically motivated. Hollywood, however, is making literal attacks on the White House that are financially motivated.

Just months after the iconic building was under siege from terrorists in Olympus Has Fallen, another round of big-screen patriotic manipulation strikes with White House Down, an aggressively preposterous thriller that turns the president into an unlikely action hero.

The film is set primarily over the course of a single day that starts when a Capitol policeman named John (Channing Tatum) tries to bond with his precocious daughter (Joey King) on a tour of the White House, where he is interviewing for a Secret Service job. Soon afterward, an elaborate attack leaves John as the only protector of President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) and causes the world to speculate if terrorists are to blame or whether it’s an inside job.

The latest slick disaster epic from director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day) takes a different approach than its competition, turning its story into more of a buddy comedy than a traditional action saga, with Sawyer playing the straight man and John as a clone of John McClane from the Die Hard series. At least the two stars seems to be having fun, and the capable supporting cast includes Maggie Gyllenhaal, Richard Jenkins and a scenery-chewing James Woods.

However, just because the screenplay by James Vanderbilt (Zodiac) is focused more on one-liners than narrative coherence doesn’t provide an excuse for a complete lack of subtlety or suspense. With almost no storytelling logic or topical relevance, clumsy plot twists and absurd motives for its villains, it resembles a rejected idea for another Lethal Weapon sequel.

In some ways, perhaps the film deserves credit for being so completely dedicated to its over-the-top lunacy that it practically turns into a parody. The villains are apparently trained assassins with unlimited weapons, resources and explosives, but absolutely no common sense. And they’re able to put only a scratch on John, an average cop who evidently is an expert in marksmanship, top-secret security tactics and hand-to-hand combat.

But such scrutiny misses the point of White House Down, or at least that’s what Emmerich hopes. Maybe its humorous jabs are some sort of commentary on the contemporary political landscape. In that case, maybe Foxx should be the leader of the free world, after all.

 

Rated PG-13, 131 minutes.

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