If he didn't already, director Roland Emmerich surely now holds the record for the number of times a single filmmaker has destroyed America's most famous residence — in a movie. He leveled it with an alien attack in “Independence Day” (1996), then flattened it again in “2012” (2009) when he ran the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy through it during a global natural disaster.
Now he's unleashing a gang of rogue ex-soldiers on the hapless abode at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in the nonstop nail-biter “White House Down,” which bears a strong resemblance, plot-wise, to director Antoine Fuqua's “Olympus Has Fallen,” another presidential home invasion thriller released earlier this year.
The biggest differences between Fuqua's R-rated actioner and Emmerich's shoot-'em-up are that the latter is less violent, doesn't take itself too seriously, even has its funny moments, and is rated PG-13.
And despite its two-hour-plus running time, it jets along like Air Force One in overdrive thanks to a streamlined script by James Vanderbilt (“Zodiac,” “The Amazing Spider-Man”).
Channing Tatum is capable and sympathetic as Capitol cop John Cale (no relation to the ex-Velvet Underground Cale), a decorated former soldier and divorced father who's struggling for a better relationship with his 11-year-old daughter (a feisty Joey King). Since she worships President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx in top form), Cale figures what better way to become a hero in his little girl's eyes than to become a protector of the Commander-in-Chief? But when he applies for a Secret Service job, he discovers his would-be boss is an old girlfriend (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who suspects he's still as immature as he used to be, and she turns him down.
A dejected Cale takes his daughter on a guided White House tour anyway, but that's rudely interrupted when the explosions begin and the White House is invaded by paramilitary thugs, led by a scary-mean Jason Clarke (the interrogation expert from “Zero Dark Thirty”).
Cale is separated from his daughter, interrupts the kidnapping of the president, and throughout the rest of the film Cale and the Prez flee from and clash with various members of the invading force in the halls and famous rooms of the White House, destroying priceless furniture and knick-knacks and stacking up bodies all over the place as Cale simultaneously fights to protect the Leader of the Free World, save his daughter and stop the terrorists from triggering a global nuclear holocaust.
James Woods is exceedingly loathsome as the outgoing head of the Secret Service who seems to be the mastermind of this bloody takeover attempt, and the ever-dependable Richard Jenkins is perfectly cast as the mild-mannered and befuddled Speaker of the House from the opposing party.
But Foxx is the scene-stealer whenever he's on camera, perfectly balancing presidential bearing with light comedic strokes that cut through the tension just when it's needed.
Emmerich and Vanderbilt are obviously borrowing heavily from the Bruce Willis playbook, and this outrageous ride — complete with a demolition-derby limousine chase around the lawn of the presidential palace — rolls out like “Die Hard in D.C.” from first frame to last.
If that sounds like solid summer fun to you, this is a White House tour worth taking.
— Gene Triplett