Review: White House Down Is Funnier than Most Summer Comedies

The Washington Monument would have been too obvious.
The Washington Monument would have been way too obvious.

It’s not immediately clear, but director Roland Emmerich -the German filmmaker known for blowing stuff up- is quite a liberal. Not only Emmerich has orchestrated the biggest climate change movies thus far (The Day After Tomorrow, 2012), he has taken on the military industrial complex several times since first ruffling a few feathers in Universal Soldier.

In White House Down, weapons manufacturers are the backers for an attack on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. President James Sawyer (James Foxx riffing on Barack Obama) is about to pull all military forces from the Middle East, as he pushes for a peace treaty with all the parts involved. Considering the economic side effects, many people in power have issues with the decision, enough to orchestrate a massive attack on the POTUS’ residence.

As it happens, Secret Service reject John Cale (Channing Tatum, bringing a welcome sense of levity to the proceedings) is in the premises, and becomes the Prez only hope for a second term when his entire security detail succumbs at hands of renegade commandos.

Never mind all the poignancy. This is a Roland Emmerich movie. If Olympus Has Fallen was preposterous, White House Down takes the cake. The villain super team includes a godless hacker, a Tea Party survivalist, a black-ops operative and inside men with serious pull. How excessive is White House Down? Three people are sworn as POTUS in two hours and a half. The film is a veritable compendium of badass catchphrases (“tour is over” takes the cake). Also, kudos for rescuing James Woods from Family Guy cameos for a meaty role as a heavy.

Even though the very serious Maggie Gyllenhaal is at hand to provide some gravitas, the movie is hilarious, both on purpose and inadvertently: If somebody says “the pen is mightier than the sword”, you can bet someone will get stabbed with one. An unexpectedly joyous subplot pits a fussy tour guide against a violent redneck. The payoff is memorable.

This film is relentless, after the opening twenty minutes there is no down time. The second act is genuinely gripping and even though the wheels end up falling off, the ride is remarkably entertaining. Most surprising of all, Emmerich doesn’t blow the entire US capital to accomplish this. White House Down is up there with Fast and Furious 6 as shameless entertainment goes.

Three and a half prairie dogs.

Author: Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Journalist, film critic, documentary filmmaker, and sometimes nice guy. Member of the Vancouver Film Critics Circle. Like horror flicks, long walks on the beach and candlelight dinners. Allergic to cats.