Four stars. Rating: PG-13, for fleeting profanity and relentless action violence
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 6.28.13
You gotta give ’em credit: Despite an invasion premise that confines the primary characters to the labyrinthine White House interior, this crowd-pleasing action epic manages to work in a car chase.
And a reasonably plausible car chase, at that.
Director Roland Emmerich and writer James Vanderbilt actually deserve credit for far more than that. Despite arriving late to this high-profile copycat party, White House Down is superior to spring’s Olympus Has Fallen: a much smarter script, vastly better characters and a superior blend of action and hell-for-leather humor.
THIS is the way I expect our heads of state to behave: defiant and resourceful in the face of death, rather than the cowardly, impotent weenies who populated Olympus Has Fallen.
Granted, both films offer the same sort of quasi-political hokum, but White House Down delivers the (mostly) one-man derring-do with far more style. Despite a self-indulgent running time of 131 minutes, Emmerich and editor Adam Wolfe keep the pace crisp, the tension coiled and the heroics more or less reasonable.
Vanderbilt’s narrative is a series of clever teases, with every small triumph offset by a newly discovered setback; we therefore cheer each cathartic victory while remaining invested in the primary goal that, vexingly, remains out of reach.
Best of all, we have a solid quartet of villains to boo and hiss: a turncoat mastermind and three delectably unscrupulous associates, each playing his part with gleefully malevolent brio. After all, heroes are measured by their adversaries.
John Cale (Channing Tatum), a capable D.C. policeman, is less successful on the home front, having let down his young daughter, Emily (Joey King), once too often. This comes as no surprise to ex-wife Melanie (Rachelle Lefevre), who, while sympathetic, doesn’t put much stock in Cale’s insistence that he’s trying to atone for past mistakes. Emily, also not impressed, prefers to call her estranged father by his first name.
Hoping to recover some ground, Cale scores a second White House pass so that Emily can tag along when he applies for his dream job, as a member of the Secret Service staff assigned to protect President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx). Alas, Special Agent Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal) also knows too much about Cale’s various character flaws, in part thanks to a long-ago affair with him. She thus denies him the shot.