I’m going to make a statement at the outset that I am sure to contradict at some point in the future (perhaps within this very review!), but here we go: one can only honestly rate a film on a scale that comports with its intentions and the efficacy with which it is executed. Through a critical lens that accounts for the expectations commensurate with a genre film of this ilk, White House Down is a very decent action smorgasbord and much better than many other recent offerings in its weight class.
In other words, if one were to attempt to review a film like White House Down on, say, plausibility…well, you’re doing it wrong. If one were to become flabbergasted by the naive political agenda driving the narrative…well…you’re doing it wrong. Basically, if you’re unable to disassociate the more rational part of your mind from the part of your mind that can simply appreciate technique and style, then you shouldn’t be allowed to watch this brand of explosive, sweaty, guns-blazing, car-chasing action film. To be clear, I don’t mean to imply that White House Down is a dumb film–in some ways (for example, the way it parcels out its surprises), it’s quite smart. But don’t expect it to be a compelling political treatise, because it’s not.
So let’s keep this simple, shall we? Did you love Die Hard? Did you enjoy The Rock? How about Airforce One? Well, this is a film that easily could have been a sequel to either of its afore-mentioned spiritual precursors–and a damn fine sequel at that. Only…you know…not as good as those films.
Channing Tatum doesn’t have the smart-alecky charisma of a young Bruce Willis or the eccentric watchability of Nicolas Cage, but there is something undeniably appealing about his laconic portrayal that goes beyond just generally being handsome and affable. Tatum plays well against the film’s colorful antagonists, so his understatedness is, perhaps, more of an asset than one might initially realize. Where White House Down finds itself wanting for a more forceful personality on the white hat side of the fence, the filmmakers provide us Jamie Foxx, who in retrospect seems a bit underutilized, but he does round out whatever deficiencies Tatum may have as a leading man. The two work well together, though to be quite certain, this isn’t a buddy film.
White House Down is more in the vein of, say, the original Die Hard than, say, Die Hard with a Vengeance. In that respect, White House Down is as outrageously over-the-top as one would expect, as the film allows the protagonist to single-handedly outwit and dismantle a collection of mercenaries that one-shot kill myriad other trained law enforcement and military personnel. But that’s just how things work in these sorts of films.
In other words, if you get a migraine wondering why the Imperial stormtroopers in Star Wars couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn when they were firing at the main cast, then please avert your eyes.
And I suppose this all amounts to the largest asset of White House Down and its largest problem: it conforms to every genre expectation, but at least, it pulls out all of the stops without ever getting annoying about it–it doesn’t wear the viewer down the way, say, Man of Steel did. White House Down is a film that knows exactly what it is, and delivers it with even pacing and a plot that, while ludicrous, is nevertheless well constructed and filmed.
In short: entertaining as hell.