Sunday, April 20, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

‘White House Down’: Slick summer heroics

Having worked their way through secret tunnels that lead beneath the White House, Cale (Channing Tatum, right) and President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) are dismayed to discover that the bad guys have blocked the way with a complicated bomb. Bad news ... and, worse news, irritated thugs with guns are right behind them. Courtesy photo

By
From page A9 | June 28, 2013 | Leave Comment

“White House Down”

Four stars 

Starring: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, James Woods, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Richard Jenkins, Joey King, Jason Clarke, Jimmi Simpson

Rating: PG-13, for fleeting profanity and relentless action violence

Everything works in this well-paced action epic

By Derrick Bang
Enterprise film critic

You gotta give ’em credit: Despite an invasion premise that confines the primary characters to the labyrinthine White House interior, this crowd-pleasing action epic manages to work in a car chase.

And a reasonably plausible car chase, at that.

Director Roland Emmerich and writer James Vanderbilt actually deserve credit for far more than that. Despite arriving late to this high-profile copycat party, “White House Down” is superior to spring’s “Olympus Has Fallen”: a much smarter script, vastly better characters and a superior blend of action and hell-for-leather humor.

This is the way I expect our heads of state to behave: defiant and resourceful in the face of death, rather than the cowardly, impotent weenies who populated “Olympus Has Fallen.”

Granted, both films offer the same sort of quasi-political hokum, but “White House Down” delivers the (mostly) one-man derring-do with far more style. Despite a self-indulgent running time of 131 minutes, Emmerich and editor Adam Wolfe keep the pace crisp, the tension coiled and the heroics more or less reasonable.

Vanderbilt’s narrative is a series of clever teases, with every small triumph offset by a newly discovered setback; we therefore cheer each cathartic victory while remaining invested in the primary goal that, vexingly, remains out of reach.

Best of all, we have a solid quartet of villains to boo and hiss: a turncoat mastermind and three delectably unscrupulous associates, each playing his part with gleefully malevolent brio. After all, heroes are measured by their adversaries.

John Cale (Channing Tatum), a capable D.C. policeman, is less successful on the home front, having let down his young daughter, Emily (Joey King), once too often. This comes as no surprise to ex-wife Melanie (Rachelle Lefevre), who, while sympathetic, doesn’t put much stock in Cale’s insistence that he’s trying to atone for past mistakes. Emily, also not impressed, prefers to call her estranged father by his first name.

Hoping to recover some ground, Cale scores a second White House pass so that Emily can tag along when he applies for his dream job, as a member of the Secret Service staff assigned to protect President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx). Alas, Special Agent Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal) also knows too much about Cale’s various character flaws, in part thanks to a long-ago affair with him. She thus denies him the shot.

Not wanting to admit this newest failure to Emily, Cale yields to her desire for a White House tour. We’ve learned by now that Emily is a hard-core political enthusiast, with a passion for detail and a dreamy-eyed crush on President Sawyer; she therefore knows the answers to all the tricky questions posed by the tour guide (Nicolas Wright, as Donnie), much to the latter’s amused frustration.

Alas, this just happens to be the day when Walker (James Woods), a 25-year Secret Service veteran, goes rogue and orchestrates a complex revenge plot. Within minutes, thanks to an assault team that cleverly infiltrates the White House — and let’s hope it wouldn’t be anywhere near this easy, in real life! — the demolished Capitol dome has crashed into the lower floors, Walker has the president at gunpoint, 70 or so tour members are being held hostage, and Cale has been separated from his daughter (who chose this moment to use one of the posh White House bathrooms).

Security aides manage to get Vice President Hammond (Michael Murphy) airborne in Air Force One, while Speaker of the House Eli Raphelson (Richard Jenkins) is similarly safe in the military command center overseen by spit-and-polish Gen. Caulfield (Lance Reddick).

The invading commandos are led by the vicious Stenz (Jason Clarke) and the somewhat unstable Killick (Kevin Rankin), both of whom think nothing of offing a high-level politico in order to secure compliance from the others. Meanwhile, über-hacker Tyler (Jimmi Simpson), happily ensconced in the White House emergency bunker, methodically punches through all computer security protocols in order to gain access to … we know not what. But we can imagine it’ll be bad, if he succeeds.

Oh, and outside military forces are prevented from mounting a rescue mission because a) they don’t want to risk injuring President Sawyer; and b) the baddies have control of the White House roof, where they’re able to repel any incursions with RPGs.

(Yeah, those are thin excuses, but hey: We’ve got a movie to enjoy. Go with the flow.)

Can Cale make a difference? Will the sun rise in the east?

Tatum makes an engaging action hero from the “I’ve no other choice” school, as opposed to guys who know what they’re doing at all times. Cale’s desire to find and protect his daughter is ample motivation: at times a stronger incentive than saving a president he didn’t vote for (one of this film’s many droll running gags).

That said, Cale quickly links up with Sawyer, and the two become a resourceful team: The former has the military training — tours of duty in Afghanistan, carefully noted early on — while the latter knows “his house” inside and out.

Foxx is careful to maintain Sawyer’s limitations: He’s a decisive and quick-thinking strategist, to be sure, but otherwise a vulnerable head of state quite content to follow Cale’s lead (as opposed to, for example, Harrison Ford’s commando-style president in 1997’s “Air Force One”). This is smart synergy on the part of Emmerich and Vanderbilt: Cale and Sawyer cleverly complement each other, just as Tatum and Foxx make excellent use of the initially prickly wariness between these two characters, which (of course) quickly blossoms into mutual trust.

The stand-out performance, however, comes from young Joey King’s bold and plucky Emily: definitely the toughest, smartest and most quick-witted little girl we’ve seen in a long time. King pulls it all off quite credibly; when she screws her little face into a furious sneer and defiantly stares down Stenz and Killick, angrily telling one to get out of her face, it’s hard to resist shouting, “You GO, girl!”

Gyllenhaal is properly focused and steely eyed as the capable Finnerty, while Simpson — a popular character actor with an active résumé of big-screen and TV roles — has a field day as the droll, lollypop-sucking Tyler.

Woods chews up the scenery in similar style, as the vengeance-fueled Walker. Woods always is at his best as an impatient villain who grows increasingly annoyed with his underlings, contempt dripping from every hard-bitten syllable. He’s the pluperfect criminal mastermind astonished by the interference of one lone guy: a juicy addition to the bad-guy template established so well by Alan Rickman, in 1988’s “Die Hard” (the only noteworthy entry in that series).

Vanderbilt knows his way around twisty scenarios, having adapted Robert Graysmith’s book for director David Fincher’s 2007 handling of “Zodiac.” Vanderbilt is clever about details, so pay close attention to the opening act; clues are dropped that’ll later prove quite significant.

Emmerich has a long history of thunderously overblown, audience-pleasing epics that go back to “Stargate” and “Independence Day,” and more recently include the less satisfying “10,000 BC” and “2012.” I’m happy to note that “White House Down” lacks the unpalatably casual mass brutality of “2012”; all the characters here matter, and the occasional instances of collateral homicide take place logically, rather than as a pointless excuse to ratchet up the body count.

In sum, “White House Down” is a capably mounted and enjoyably executed ride. You really can’t expect more from a summer popcorn thriller.

— Read more of Derrick Bang’s film criticism at http://derrickbang.blogspot.com. Comment on this review at www.davisenterprise.com

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Davis Enterprise does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

    Tom Adams seeks Davis school board seat

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A1

     
    Hub of activity: DHS newspaper keeps evolving

    By Zoe Juanitas | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    A springtime ritual

    By Wayne Tilcock | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Holy fire ceremony draws thousands in Jerusalem

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2 | Gallery

     
    Tour renovated YCCC facility Thursday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Tour Davis Waldorf School on Wednesday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    The fifth annual Tour de Cluck is soon to be hatched

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3 | Gallery

     
    Ortiz lawn signs available

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Sign up soon for spring cooking classes

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Robb Davis team to rally on Saturday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Steadfast in their support

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A4, 11 Comments | Gallery

     
    Yolo Hospice offers free grief workshops

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Sign up for Camp Kesem caterpillar crawl

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Quilters gear up for annual show

    By Sebastian Onate | From Page: A4

    League hosts a series of candidate forums

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

     
    KDVS launches fund drive on Monday

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A5

    Calling all Scrabble fans

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5, 1 Comment | Gallery

     
    Hub webpage is seeing traffic increasing

    By Zoe Juanitas | From Page: A8

    Hotel/conference center info meeting set

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A16

     
    Lescroart welcomes all to book-launch party

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A16 | Gallery

    DEVO set to serve up 14th annual Winkler Dinner

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A16, 1 Comment | Gallery

     
    Learn Chinese crafts at I-House

    By Sebastian Onate | From Page: A16

    Preschool open house set at Davis Waldorf

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A16

     
    Birch Lane celebrates its 50th anniversary

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A16

    .

    Forum

    Take ownership of your health

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B5

     
    Keep your baby safe

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7

     
    Not thrilled with lack of symmetry

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7

    Reliving the agony and ecstasy of spring

    By Marion Franck | From Page: A7

     
    Road diet? No, city diet!

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12, 5 Comments

    We’re reveling in our equality

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12, 1 Comment

     
    Vote no; it’s fiscally responsible

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12, 3 Comments

    Rick McKee cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A12

     
    Core values on campus

    By Our View | From Page: A12, 3 Comments

     
    Don’t want to sit in Fix 50 traffic? Consider alternatives

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A13, 1 Comment

     
    Bill is an affront to UC Davis ag biotech and local farmers

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A13, 3 Comments

    .

    Sports

    Devils burn up the track

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

     
    UCD softball shut out by Santa Barbara

    By Thomas Oide | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Aggie men shoot 9-under, lead own tourney

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Stars shine in Woody Wilson Classic

    By Evan Ream | From Page: B1, 1 Comment | Gallery

     
    UCD roundup: Aggie baseball swept away by Highlanders

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2

    A’s score 3 in ninth, rally past Astros 4-3

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

     
    .

    Features

    .

    Arts

    .

    Business

    Yolo Federal Credit Union gets WISH funds

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

     
    PG&E pays taxes, fees to county, cities

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9, 1 Comment

    Will Davis get an Old Soul?

    By Wendy Weitzel | From Page: A9

     
    Pediatricians, nurse practitioner hired at Woodland Healthcare

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9 | Gallery

    Asian stocks mostly higher after mixed U.S. earnings

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

     
    Davis Roots will showcase its graduating startups

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A14

    University Honda wins another President’s Award

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A14 | Gallery

     
    Dutch Bros. raises $19,000 for girl with leukemia

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A14 | Gallery

    .

    Obituaries

    .

    Comics

    Comics: Sunday, April 20, 2014

    By Creator | From Page: B8