On the dawn of a historic peace treaty, Capitol police operative John Cale (Tatum) takes his daughter on a tour of the White House. Naturally, scumbags crash it, and Cale finds himself charged with single-handedly rescuing the President (Foxx).
How can the same shit happen to the same executive residence twice? Or, in fact, thrice? The White House obviously had a bad time in this year’s Olympus Has Fallen, a movie so patriotic it had Gerard Butler brain a baddie in the Oval Office using a bust of Abraham Lincoln. But who can forget the high-water mark of Penn. Avenue pandemonium: the all-the-money-in-the-Treasury shot in Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day, that sees the building get lasered by a UFO? Clearly not Emmerich, who freezes the exposition in the early stretch of White House Down just long enough to have a tour guide namecheck his own film.
It’s that kind of movie. Big, goofy, loud and as realistic a view of D.C. life as That’s My Bush!, it’s also the most fun the director has been since ID itself. At one point, Channing Tatum threatens a squirrel with a handgun. At another, a reporter exclaims, “Oh my God, it’s President Sawyer and he’s got a rocket launcher!” There are several moments where it’s a mere string or two away from Team America: World Police, not least a recurring beat where various politicos are sworn in as Commander-In-Chief, each time harder to watch with a straight face than the last.
But for the most part, Emmerich is in on the joke. And with Tatum and Jamie Foxx as Secret Service wannabe/leader of the free world, he’s got the sparkiest double-act of the summer (sorry, Tonto). Where Harrison Ford’s gruff Prez in Air Force One wasn’t tied to either party, Foxx’s Nicorette-chewing President Sawyer is blatantly modelled on Obama, albeit with less emphasis on federal emergency management and more on kicking the booty of treacherous voters. Once the leads team up in a bid to sneak away to safety, the movie properly shifts into gear; it avoids the obvious bickering-but-gradually-learning-to-accept-each-other route in favour of instant warmth and funny repartee. Both characters are hip and smart, though only Foxx gets to rock a pair of Air Jordans (Barack’s sneakers of choice).
Decidedly unhip are the villains, all of whom happen to have right-wing leanings. Emmerich gleefully inflicts suffering on a doughy Fox News-ish reporter, while a particularly lunkheaded dialogue exchange informs us that the dark power behind this threat to America is “the industrial-military complex”. The baddies on the ground, meanwhile, led by an Ed-Harris-from-The-Rock-channelling James Woods, are a motley crew of gun-toting rednecks. Refreshingly, given the anonymity of the thugs in Olympus Has Fallen, they are actually given a bit of personality. There’s one that looks like Bennett from Commando. One who resembles Anthony Hopkins on steroids. One who’s diabetic. And one who likes to hack to classical music, like Theo in Die Hard. Well, we did say a bit of personality.
In fact, in its pursuit of the spirit of Die Hard, the film veers perilously close to ripping off its hallowed granddaddy. It’s not just the Beethoven (Symphony No. 7 here; Hans Gruber prefers No. 9.), but the walkie-talkies, the elevator shafts, the attack choppers... All said, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if it turned out writer James Vanderbilt tapped out the script while wearing a white vest. But, though none of the action really hits the high notes of John McClane’s maiden mission — a ludicrous car chase around the White House lawn, involving Presidential limo The Beast getting its bulletproof armour thoroughly tested, comes closest — the chaos is at least consistently inventive, cleanly shot and largely done practically. Which is more than you can say for the latest Die Hard.
There are clichés galore, a dud role for Maggie Gyllenhaal as a Secret Service high-up who gets stuck sniffing out clues in the War Room, and some horribly rendered CG helicopters, a blight on many modern action flicks. But if you’re tuned into Emmerich’s tongue-in-cheek frequency, you’ll enjoy the bluntness of his vision. No tortured heroes or crumbling cities here: just a cheerfully cartoonish, old-school mash-up of one-liners, secret bunkers, flag-twirling, stressed NORAD technicians, atomic subs and maniacs with rocket-propelled grenades. That independence Day-referencing tour guide? He gets a shotgun. Of course he does.
Lincoln meets Sudden Death: a corny but raucous throwback to when Planet Hollywood was hip. Gary Busey popping out of a rose bush wouldnt feel out of place.