It's going to be an eventful day in Washington D.C., but it starts quietly with President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) returning from Middle East peace talks where he has put into motion a plan which could spell a lasting peace for the region without intrusive United States involvement. Meanwhile, John Cale (Channing Tatum) is the bodyguard of the Speaker (Richard Jenkins), a post he gained as a favour for saving the man's nephew when they were both serving in Afghanistan, but he's not quite as accomplished in his personal life for he's just forgotten about the talent show his daughter Emily (Joey King) was taking part in. Perhaps a trip to The White House will solve things?
2013 saw one of those cases where there were two competing Hollywood blockbusters along very similar lines, in that case a couple of movies about The White House being taken over by terrorists. One was Olympus Has Fallen, which was Very Serious Indeed, and the other was this, a more goofy if no less sincere effort; it seemed to be the case that if you were right wing in your politics you would appreciate the gung ho former, and if you were left leaning it was White House Down for which you expressed a preference, assuming you enjoyed either at all. There were certainly plenty of things the two had in common, including variations on the same scene in some cases, but there was one difference.
That being Olympus Has Fallen cleaned up at the box office and White House Down was an underachiever, not a huge flop or anything but nowhere near as successful as the movie which beat its release date by some weeks, presumably leaving most potential audiences feeling they'd seen it all before so there was little point in watching the same thing with a different cast. However, there was a contingent who expressed the opinion that actually, this wasn't bad at all, if anything its essential ludicrousness was the main reason you could very likely enjoy it. If its politics smacked of wish-fulfilment, especially the magic wand which was waved (almost literally) by the finale, then oddly the mayhem was reminiscent of the same, as if peace must be hard won, preferably with fistfights and rocker launchers.
Director Roland Emmerich preferred to take his time in establishing his characters for the first half hour, with only a small selection of shady-looking sorts hoving into view for a brief amount of time, though we can tell something is up even if the important characters have no inkling of it. Cale (no relation to the Velvet Underground) is really in The White House to see about a job interview for a Presidential guard position, but his potential boss Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is unconvinced he's the right man for it. Too embarrassed to admit this to politics fan Emily, he fluffs any explanation with a suggestion they take the guided tour, which is why they are both present when all hell breaks loose and a bunch of terrorists start blowing things up and shooting governmental staff. Oh dear, they are separated and Cale spends the rest of the movie proving he's not a deadbeat dad.
If this sounds as if the President is somewhat marginalised here, he does spend an awful lot of the running time hiding, but part of the fun is when Foxx gets to keep up with Tatum in the action man stakes, most memorably when he has to hang out of the armoured limousine with one of those rocket launchers while speeding across one of the most famous lawns in the world. Much of the humour was intentional, but that didn't make it any the less silly, which in turn was oddly amusing in itself if you were engaged enough in its shaggy dog story turned up to eleven plotting, though it did come across as having a more important agenda, which was to make politicians appear likeable and human. This it did by placing them in an extreme situation and displaying grace under pressure, with the main baddie orchestrating the attack the head of the Secret Service (James Woods) and the sinister weapons manufacturers taking the blame for perpetuating grand scale violence as their business. When it came down to it, this was too similar to its rival, but hard to dislike, almost naively endearing.