White House Down – Review ★★

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Washington cop Channing Tatum is on a guided tour of the White House with his little daughter when heavily armed paramilitarists attack. Now he’s got three little problems, saving his daughter, protecting the life of the President (Jamie Foxx) and saving the Land of the Free.

It all starts with Tatum up for a new job. The interview doesn’t go as well as he’d hoped. Maggie Gyllenhaal is a real bossy-boots as the Secret Service boss who doesn’t think Tatum’s got the right stuff to be a presidential guard. Denied his dream job, he lies to his daughter Emily (Joey King) and just takes her on a tour of the White House. The Prez suddenly appears and talks in ever such a friendly way to Tatum and the girl. Hey, he’s a nice kind of feller! That done, the girl wanders off to the loo on her own and that’s when the paramilitary group strikes.

With the US President as an action hero, White House Down is the absolute daftest hokum but it’s still enjoyable, fast-paced fun. The unlikely Jamie Foxx-Channing Tatum double act proves very entertaining and old James Woods is a reliably great villain. And there are other decent enough turns from Richard Jenkins as one of those top politicians you probably wouldn’t want to trust too much and Nicholas Wright as Donnie the Guide, the amusing enough comedy relief. But whatever the director Roland Emmerich tries, it lacks class. Is it tongue-in-cheek or all taken for real? Hard to say but there are quite a few laughs among all the action. Tatum breezes through it all incredibly cheerfully, like a man whose career is going real well. One just a muscle-bound hunk, he’s got the hang of acting and being funny, these days. Tatum’s like Mark Walhberg and Dwayne Johnson, a good thing.

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White House Down isn’t such a good thing. I could see people developing a soft spot for it but it is in truth quite a terrible movie, kind of in the so-bad-it’s-good category. It’s much worse than this year’s very similar (and none too brilliant) Olympus Has Fallen with Gerard Butler. But, for all its failings, it is extremely funny though. It’s a hoot and a half, in fact. It’s quite a subtle and clever idea that you never know whether you’re laughing at it or the laughs are intentional. And somehow they even manage to get a car chase into a movie set at the White House. Now that’s real smart!

How did it cost $150million? How does a story like this run on to 131 minutes? Why isn’t it as good as Emmerich’s Independence Day? Or even as good as his The Day after Tomorrow or 2012? It’s not his fault. He does everything he knows to make kit work. Blame James Vanderbilt’s lame screenplay. Maybe it isn’t his fault either. Vanderbilt wrote the script of one really brilliant movie, Zodiac. Apart from the obvious shots of the real Washington, it was filmed in Montreal. Such is the magic of the movies.

Derek Winnert is a leading UK film critic and author working for Vue Cinemas, Shortlist, Onemetal, ILoveMediaCity, cubed3, Letterboxd, Universal Film Magazine, UK Film Review, jonesyinc, The Void, Celebritext and the Film Review annual. He’s also worked for TV Times, What’s On TV, TV & Satellite Week, The Times, The Guardian and The Daily Mail. A member of the London Critics Circle, he is the author of The Virgin Encyclopedia of the Movies, The Film & Video Guide and a biography of Barbra Streisand.