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If First You Don’t Succeed, Blow It Up Again

by Shawn Stone on July 3, 2013

White House Down
Directed by Roland Emmerich


When I was younger, the films of Roland Emmerich bothered me. In fact, they bothered me much more than they should have. At first, this was because of the peculiar (and consistent) manner they fell apart. Stargate and Independence Day both had tremendously taut, well-engineered openings, which degenerated into, well, complete shit. Stargate disintegrated into a confusing combination of Egyptology and murderous aliens, with Kurt Russell giving a far more serious performance than the film deserved; Independence Day degenerated into so many varieties of nonsense that it’s hard to tell which one was the worst. (OK, it was Jeff Goldblum hacking into the aliens’ computer system while still finding time to give prominent product placement to Coca-Cola.)

White House Down

Then there was The Patriot, a Revolutionary War epic which had a pretty good script and a few nice performances (most notably by Heath Ledger), but ultimately sank into an jingoistic rage born of Emmerich’s particular form of bad taste lining up perfectly with Mel Gibson’s boundless vanity.

Then there’s his horrible Godzilla remake, and The Day After Tomorrow, his horrible climate change thriller, and 2012. . . . That’s when I gave in. John Landis accurately called 2012 a comedy, singling out the scene in which John Cusack outruns the San Andreas fault.

What I’m saying is, if you’re in the right mood, White House Down is pretty funny.

President Jamie Foxx proposes a treaty with Iran, and moves to pull all of our U.S. troops from the Middle East. This makes plenty of politicians and defense industry types really mad. So a shadowy group of disgruntled right wingers, racists and opportunists at the highest level of government come together to stage a coup. Happily, on the day this coup is attempted, Channing Tatum is in the White House to interview for a job with the Secret Service. Though his ex-girlfriend and head of the Secret Service (Maggie Gyllenhaal) rejects his application, he’s there when the bombs start blowing up and the baddies start slaughtering everyone in sight.

Part of the fun is the film’s wonderful anti-right-wing bias. There’s a Rush Limbaugh-type character that is taken hostage in the White House; he spends most of the time quietly weeping. The film is pro-peace and anti-military industrial complex, while at the same time delivering the requisite mayhem and death. (Say goodbye to the Capitol dome, for starters.)

Tatum, Foxx and company take this reasonably seriously, but not so much that it gets in the way of the (unintentional) humor. Emmerich makes the most of his second crack at destroying the White House; he may make a great comedy yet.