'White House Down' review: The good kind of bad

RedEye's Matt Pais and Ernest Wilkins discuss Channing Tatum's ridiculous action movie and the Sandra Bullock/Melissa McCarthy buddy cop comedy.

*** (out of four)

In March, it was “Olympus Has Fallen.” Now the security breach is more directly described as “White House Down.” We're very close to a title just spelling out, “Oh Crap, The Oval Office Is On Fire.”

Unlike the straight-faced and offensively jingoistic “OHF,” however, the latest story of terrorists taking over the presidential palace piles on the absurdity with a big dose of silliness. “WHD” is total garbage, and I happily recommend it.

Suggesting that the guy in the tank top catalog makes a surprisingly legit, vulnerable everyman, the ever-likable Channing Tatum plays John Cale (no relation to musician John Cale), an army vet with dreams of joining the Secret Service. He doesn't have the book smarts for it—his reaction to the president's (Jamie Foxx) controversial removal of American troops from the Middle East is, “It's good to have less enemies, I guess”—but he's the sort of guy who'd never leave anyone behind. Like, say, his brave 11-year-old daughter Emily (Joey King), who breaks from a White House tour for the ladies' room just as a bomb goes off in the Capitol building and American terrorists (led by James Woods) take over 1600 Penn. Emily gives young, smart kids a good name, and “WHD” does the same for dumb fun.

The movie comes from schlockmaster Roland Emmerich, who’s made a lot of complete junk (“10,000 BC,” “2012,” “Godzilla”) and the enjoyable “Independence Day.” “WHD” demonstrates the big difference between an awesomely, innocently ridiculous live-action cartoon and a violent cliché-a-thon that tries to get the crowd to scream, “America, [Bleep] Yeah!” The movie isn’t believable for a second, and amen to that.

Except for Cale hiding from an explosion behind a lectern. That can totally happen.

Most of the performances are awful, which almost makes the material better. Plus, when did you ever walk out of an old Schwarzenegger movie raving about the acting or the logistics of the plot? Written by James Vanderbilt (“Zodiac,” “The Losers”), “WHD” has a good sense of humor. One highlight involves the president attempting to shoot a rocket launcher while Cale floors the presidential limo around the White House lawn. Several actors have a blast, including Jimmi Simpson (“It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia”) as a cheerful hacker and Jason Clarke (“Zero Dark Thirty,” “The Chicago Code”) as a particularly angry henchman.

Though never boring, “WHD” suffers any time real life interferes. Attempts to indict the media and political inaction don’t connect, and, like “OHF,” “WHD” frequently involves a child in danger. Also, a character commenting on the worst day in American history will only make viewers think of what incident actually earns that title.

When delivering an outrageous summer blockbuster, prompting memories of 9/11 really isn’t the path to entertainment.
 

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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