Kurt Loder Movie Reviews

White House Down

Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum in search of homeland security.


Any movie that introduces its star in conversation with a squirrel would have to be going for comedy, you'd think. But with Roland Emmerich it's hard to be sure. The director has toyed with laughter before—with his global-warming hoot fest The Day After Tomorrow, his Stone Age lunk-a-thon 10,000 BC, and his straight-faced Mayan-apocalypse workout, 2012. But with his new movie, White House Down, Emmerich appears to be tossing all restraint aside in order to stake his claim as a laugh-master of the top rank. Either that, or he has delivered one of his silliest pictures to date.

Like the Gerard Butler film Olympus Has Fallen, which was released just three months ago, White House Down tells the story of a veteran frustrated in his attempt to join the security detail of the president of the United States; a gang of terrorists who invade the White House with the greatest of ease; a plot to take control of every nuclear missile in the U.S. arsenal; and, for similar good measure, a dastardly American traitor and a cute little kid in peril. This time around, the veteran, a marine named Cale, is played by Channing Tatum, who, if it need be said, is a more appealing actor than Butler. And the president Cale seeks to safeguard – a Barack Obama duplicate named Sawyer—is played by Jamie Foxx, who brings real style and energy to the proceedings.

Following the opening squirrel interaction, which really is rather odd, we see that Cale is currently employed in guarding the body of the Speaker of the House of Representatives (Richard Jenkins). Then we see him picking up his estranged eight-year-old daughter, Emily (Joey King), from his ex-wife (Rachelle Lefevre) and, curiously, taking the girl along to the White House to wait while he makes his latest bid to move up into presidential security. Rebuffed after an interview with Secret Service gatekeeper Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Cale glumly accedes to Emily's request to join a White House tour group. The girl is frighteningly passionate about all things D.C., and she's an uncorkable fount of Capitol factoids – historical highlights, structural dimensions – which allows her to unload exposition on us at considerable length. This is a movie in no real rush to get going.

Then a missile or something hits the Capitol Building (a bad thing, I guess we're supposed to think), and shortly the terrorists burst into the White House. Led by a disaffected Special Forces lout named Stenz (Jason Clarke, of Zero Dark Thirty), they are a band of thuggish mercenaries and white-power dimwits, and amazingly – really amazingly – they've already snuck a sophisticated bomb into the building. How bad are these guys? Well, when Stenz spots a painting of George Washington on a wall, he cracks a sneer and shoots it in the head. Soon he's stalking little Emily, who has become separated from her dad and is dodging the bad guys with striking facility.

But who's the brains behind this bloody attack? After leaping into action to snatch President Sawyer out of the bullet storm howling all around and leading him to (temporary) safety, Cale asks that very question. Sawyer leans in confidingly and says, "You ever heard of the military-industrial complex?" (The president has presumably aroused its ire by announcing his plan to pull U.S. troops out of the Middle East – after all, he says, in his most Obamian moment, "We can launch a drone off a carrier in the Gulf and hit any target we want.")

Emmerich's skill with computer-generated cataclysm is a byword at the blockbuster box office, and he deploys plenty of it here. But all the strafings and explosions and uproarious whatnot have already been done, a bit bigger and rather better, in several of the director's own movies and many others besides. The slight staleness of the picture's ritual mayhem is an unexpected disappointment. (Back on the comedy tip, however, there's a long bullet-lashed car chase that takes place entirely on the White House lawn.)

There are some entertaining performances here, especially by Jimmi Simpson, who's very funny as the terrorists' computer genius, and by James Woods, who does some spirited snarling as the presidential security chief. Tatum is of course exactly the kind of guy you'd want to have on your side in time of gunfire, and Foxx manages to deliver some of the film's clunkiest lines (he bemoans the fate of the Republic "the day we stop believing people can come together") with no damage to his charisma.

But James Vanderbilt's graceless script does none of these actors any favors, and maybe this was why Emmerich decided to play the whole movie as comedy. Unless – alarming thought – he didn't.

Editor's Note: This article originally misstated that White House Down was shot and screened in 3D.

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  1. Like the Gerard Butler film Olympus Has Fallen, which was released just three months ago,

    Ah, that’s what it is…I keep seeing trailers for white house down thinking they are the same movie as Olympus Has Fallen…and wondering what the hell is going on there.

    1. Oh, so all presidents look the same to you?

      1. Only in Roland Emmerich movies. Which also all look the same.

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  2. The problem with the new Superman?

    They’ve basically turned Superman into a Progressive superhero.

    Krypton is destroyed by fracking.

    The bad guys are bad because they’re racist.

    Superman is the good guy because he’s the champion of multiculturalism.

    I suspect in the next movie, Superman will take a stand for truth, social justice, and free healthcare for everybody.

    1. *Scratches Man of Steel off list of potential movies to watch*

      Note to Hollywood: I go to movies to be entertained, not to be preached at with lefty propoganda.

      1. They don’t explain how Krypton was destroyed, the bad guys aren’t “racist” so much as they want to eliminate everyone on earth so they can rebuild Krypton (and they were assholes well before the notion of another species entered the mix), and Superman is the good guy because he marries power to altruism.

        Seriously, I don’t know what bug crawled up Ken’s ass, but the only thing that offended me about the movie was the tacky, blatant product placement.

    2. Would you prefer Superman be a racist xenophobe who favored destructive environmental practices? WTF? Are those the things you’re for, or are you just against whatever liberals are for at any given time?

      1. All the superhero movies should be about progressivism, Tony. …and all the other movies, too.

        All the TV shows should really be about progressives. And all the books and games.

        Obama is the real super man, Tony. And he wants to save the world for us. But we have to let him into our hearts.

        Now if only we could make football, baseball, basketball, and hockey about progressivism, then we’d be able to reach everybody. Whether they like it or not.

      2. The TOnees of the world are upset that their great leader has been exposed as a smooth-talking, peeping-Tom of a thug.

        Such an outburst!!

      3. yes I really do prefer that my made up super powered heros be racist xenophobes…what’s it to ya toots?

      4. TKO! Tony defeats the strawman after refs stop the fight due to excessive number of blows. Good show, old chap!

    3. For what it’s worth, I walked away without noticing any of these things, except maybe the part about Krypton being destroyed by mining. I think maybe you’re reading a little too much into it. Not to mention that Zack Snyder’s previous directorial credits (300, The Watchmen) have a pretty obvious conservative/libertarian bent to them.

      1. Not mining.


        Their thirst for energy was insatiable, and they kept drilling and drilling–and eventually it destroyed the whole planet!

        When General Zod executes his coup, the lady in the council says (something to the effect of), “Well what should we have done, just let Krypton go dark?”

        Fracking destroyed Krypton.

        Oh, and the argument between Superman and Zod is multiculturalism. Superman and his father want to see Krypton reborn amidst and sharing with the people of earth, and Zod refuses to acknowledge the wisdom of multiculturalism.

        There ain’t nothing wrong with multiculturalism; it’s just that–be aware–they’re recasting Superman as a progressive superhero. If you like your superheros with a fat dose of propaganda, then you’ll love it!

        It was a fun popcorn movie in a lot of ways. It was also a progressive movie.

        1. If you like your superheros with a fat dose of propaganda, then you’ll love it!

          Superheroes from the get-go have always come with a fat dose of propaganda. The propaganda has changed over the years with whatever the current historical fad is, but it’s always been there. It’s even more blatant and heavy handed in the comic books.

    4. Super Monkey…truth, justice and 3 bananas a day!!!

    5. They’ve basically turned Superman into a Progressive superhero.

      Well to be fair the original Superman was a New Deal hero. You know champion of the oppressed and stuff. But then again Action Comics #1 also had him fighting a pro-interventionist lobbyist. And this was in 1938 so Superman was fighting to stay out of WWII.

    6. “They’ve basically turned Superman into a Progressive superhero.”

      “Turned”? Superman practically started off as New Deal propaganda.

    7. Superman is the good guy…

      But is he documented? I mean, he is an alien after all.

  3. White House Pants Down: The Bill Clinton Story.

  4. Then a missile or something hits the Capitol Building (a bad thing, I guess we’re supposed to think)

    Sounds like the best part of the movie. Speaking of which, what’s the deal with Roland Emmerich and blowing up Washington D.C.? NTTAWWT.

    In fact, I wouldn’t mind seeing that and the scene in Independance Day where the alien superlaser blows up D.C. on a continues loop for two hours. I’d probably be willing to pay full movie ticket prices.

  5. Both these movies essentially rehash Season 7 of 24.

  6. (he bemoans the fate of the Republic “the day we stop believing people can come together”)

    Too bad that, with the state, people usually come together to screw people they’re not coming together with. That’s usually the point.

  7. Roland Emmerich? I thought this was the latest Michael Moore “documentary”.

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  9. This sounds like an utter travesty. Possibly worse than Zero Dark Thirty which required ECT for many victims.

    Thank you for the review. The trailer was bad, but I didn’t realize the movie was quite this bad.

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