One of the most instantly recognisable movie shots of the 1990s is undoubtedly the White House being destroyed by a giant alien laser in 1996’s Independence Day. The man responsible for that was German director Roland Emmerich. He’s clearly not forgotten about it as now, many years on, he’s gained a reputation as a destruction specialist (The Day After Tomorrow, 2012) and decided to venture back to Washington D.C. to apparently blow up the presidential residence for a second time.
So there are no aliens this time around, and the premise of White House Down is quite different from Independence Day (though that film does get name-dropped in a shamelessly smug, albeit brief manner). It is still though, a film that feels very much rooted in the 1990s. Back then, every other action thriller seemed to be a Die Hard clone; ‘It’s Die Hard on a _____ ‘. No-one got around to making ‘Die Hard in the White House’ it seems, but now that’s exactly how you could pitch White House Down. It’s also arriving very soon after the similarly themed Olympus has Fallen, I haven’t seen that one yet though so can’t compare the two.
White House Down stars Channing Tatum as John Cale (“hey, that sounds a bit like John McClane”), a divorced father and military veteran whose heading to the White House for a secret service job interview. He is accompanied by his daughter, who doesn’t like him much but adores the peace loving president (Jamie Foxx), idolizing him like a rock star. They take a tour of the house post-interview and as chance would have it, it gets taken over by a bunch of terrorists, and Cale evades being held hostage.
The film does have some variations on the standard Die Hard formula, Cale has the president with him most of the time so he’s not completely alone in fighting the bad guys. At least some thought has gone into the global political repercussions of such a scenario too, as it intercuts the action work with scenes of political and military figures outside. The estranged daughter, a clear stand in for John McClane’s estranged wife, is the typical annoying movie kid though, being a grating know-it-all one moment then in peril the next. While there’s nothing particularly wrong with the head villain, if you’re openly inviting comparisons to Hans Gruber you’re going to come up short. Likewise having Tatum, making a bid as a new action hero, spend a good deal of time sporting a white vest, doesn’t invite favourable comparisons. Usually a bland and unmemorable actor, he handles the action scenes competently, but can’t sell the everyman quality that made Bruce Willis so endearing.
The plot moves along at a brisk pace, barely pausing for breath, probably helping to brush over a few moments of over-reliance on fortunate co-incidences. Only come its overblown final act does it start to lose focus, cramming in plot twists and explosions galore. For the most part, it’s a very predictable, but solidly entertaining affair. Oh, and it’s a hell of a lot better than A Good Day to Die Hard.