The most preposterously entertaining summer blockbuster arrives under a cloud of box-office ignominy. Yeah, so I guess nobody was interested in seeing another Die Hard knock-off set at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue hot on the heels of Olympus Has Fallen, which just burned audiences badly a few months ago with all those grisly, violent scenes of innocent bystanders getting shot and stabbed in the head.
But as that miserable No Strings Attached gave way to the delightful Friends with Benefits a couple years back, White House Down is the same movie done right for a change.
Loveable lunk Channing Tatum stars as a fumbling, wannabe Secret Service agent brushed off at a job interview the very minute right-wing extremists blow up the Capitol Building and try to take over the White House. Jamie Foxx is the smooth-talking, Abe Lincoln-obsessed president with a secret stash of Air Jordans and a Nicorette habit. (Any resemblance to a certain current commander-in-chief is entirely unintentional.) Tatum pulls him out of the fray to hide in elevator shafts while everybody else re-enacts their favorite scenes from Die Hard, complete with Beethoven music cues and wife-beater undershirts.
Derivative as it is, this is a terrific entertainment. Even leaving aside the grand joke that it’s all a bunch of Fox News yahoos looking for an excuse to kill the peacenik president so they can finally nuke Iran, White House Down has a classically patient structure. Gags are set up in the first act and then pay off in the third. This should be par for the course, but so many movies are written on the fly these days, such foresight feels like a novelty.
Unlike Olympus, the action isn’t limited to dimly lit hallways. Tatum is always battling it out in famous locations like the Oval Office—or at least replicas thereof; much of the movie was shot in Montreal, and the terrible green-screen effects prove it. It’s a mini-D.C. walking tour leaving destruction in the wake.
There’s a lightness to White House Down that’s missing from all those other glum blockbusters this summer. Tatum and Foxx are two ridiculously charming bastards, and I am relieved to report that director Roland Emmerich eschews the hand-held shaky-cam. Not a snap-zoom in sight. This is old-school, meat-and-potatoes action filmmaking, sharply crafted and gloriously silly.
It’s the best Die Hard movie since Speed.