For a German guy, Roland Emmerich has demonstrated an unusual interest in American history, government, and iconography. Or in blowin’ it up, anyway. The director of “Independence Day,” “Godzilla,” “The Patriot,” “The Day After Tomorrow,” and “2012” returns again to big-budget mayhem involving the destruction of national monuments with “White House Down,” one of those cheerfully implausible yet somehow not too stupid pieces of entertainment that have come to define summertime moviegoing.
Beloved movie bro Channing Tatum stars as John Cale, an Afghanistan veteran now working as part of the Speaker of the House’s security detail, with eyes on joining the Secret Service. He gets the opportunity to prove how valuable he’d be to the operation when the White House is seized by terrorists while he and his 11-year-old political-enthusiast daughter, Emily (Joey King), are on a tour. With the actual Secret Service incapacitated, it befalls John Cale to rescue the president — played, with his usual aplomb, by Jamie Foxx — from a team of villains with a variety of the usual motivations (money, revenge, etc.).
James Woods is snarky-funny as the Secret Service chief; Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a staffer with old ties to Cale; reliable Richard Jenkins is the House Speaker, who opposes the president on policy matters; Michael Murphy (who played the presidential hopeful in the satiric “Tanner ’88”) is the vice president, whisked away on Air Force One. Recognizable faces like Lance Reddick and Jason Clarke appear as military men and terrorists. People you thought were good turn out to be bad, and vice versa. Lots of people die, but hardly anyone bleeds. It’s the kind of movie that can be set almost entirely inside a building and still have a car chase. The screenplay, by James Vanderbilt (“The Rundown,” “Zodiac”), takes the view that no plot point is too minor to warrant foreshadowing (make note of what young Emily did for talent night!). There’s even some endearingly clumsy political messaging! It really has everything you need in a brainless blockbuster.
The premise is remarkably similar to that of “Olympus Has Fallen,” from three months ago, but “White House Down” improves upon it in every category. The other film’s bluntly graphic violence took the fun out of it; here, in unrealistic PG-13 land, it’s pure escapism, with an energetic series of action sequences lightened by professional-level scenery-chewing by the baddies. Instead of keeping the president away from the main action while the hero saves the day, “White House Down” pairs him up with the hero pretty early on, granting us much droll buddy-comedy dialogue between Tatum and Foxx, whose chemistry is basically a sequel waiting to happen. The distinction between good-dumb and bad-dumb is precarious, and Emmerich has been on the wrong side of it before, but here he scratches the itch that we so often have between June and August.
B (2 hrs., 11 min.; )