John McTiernan’s Die Hard will forever stand as one of the greatest action films of all time – and the genius, really, is in its simplicity. You can’t help but love the explosive fireworks, breathtaking stunts and brilliant one-liners, but really Die Hard boils down to being about a witty, down-on-his-luck, lovable lawman named John McClane who finds himself up against an overwhelming opponent and succeeding despite impossible odds.
It's clear that Roland Emmerich really wanted to make his own version of Die Hard with White House Down. Like the 80s classic, the new movie follows a witty, down-on-his-luck, lovable lawman named John who also finds himself up against an overwhelming opponent and impossible odds. Unfortunately the director also forgoes simplicity for complexity, and the result is a bloated, predictable political thriller that far too often forgets about what should be the film’s real central focus: the hero.
Scripted by James Vanderbilt, the story begins as John Cale (Channing Tatum), the head of security for the Speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins), heads to the White House with his daughter (Joey King) for a Secret Service job interview. While things don’t seem like they could get any worse after the interview goes horribly-- turns out the hard-nosed interview is also his ex (Maggie Gyllenhaal)-- a group of terrorists bomb the Capitol building and invade the president’s home. Separated from his kid and hiding from the enemy insurgents, John is forced to not only to locate and protect President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx), but also stop the terrorists’ plot.
Given his rise in popularity in the last few years, Tatum was an obvious choice for the lead, but Emmerich and his crew really couldn’t have chosen much better. The star is equipped with a great mix of charm, wit and believability as an action star, and only gets better when he is able to find the President and the movie forms an odd buddy cop-type relationship. Tatum and Foxx have excellent chemistry together and make a surprisingly adept action-movie team, whether they’re riding around on the White House lawn firing rocket launchers, climbing around in an elevator shaft, or hiding from the baddies in a kitchen dumbwaiter.
As terrific as Tatum and Foxx are, they are far too regularly overshadowed by a less than mediocre plot. While John McClane only had to deal with a bunch of high-powered thieves stealing from a multi-national corporation, White House Down’s setting inherently raises the stakes of the plot and steals attention away from the movie’s greatest assets. For each bit of Tatum/Foxx awesomeness, the film has to slog through scenes of Maggie Gyllenhaal dealing with the politics of the order of succession or trying to figure out the terrorists’ end game. As one of the lead bad guys, Jason Clarke does the best he can with what is really an underdeveloped character, and provides his own entertaining moments (my favorite being a scene where he nonsensically screams at one of his fellow radicals about his struggles with diabetes), but ultimately it isn’t enough.
When its working, Emmerich’s latest film flies higher than the flag perched on top of the White House, but as a whole can’t live up to his promise. Buy a ticket for Tatum, Foxx and the director’s unique brand of action and destruction – just don’t go in planning to see anything more than that.