By Steve Persall
Times Movie Critic
White House Down is nearly enough fun to be a bad movie that's a good time. But it always finds some way of being a drag, belching exposition and weak humor when action's all we need, then carrying the action to exhausting lengths. Borrowing from Jamie Foxx's YouTube riff about his co-star's name, it has too much Channing on its Tatum.
Directed by Roland Emmerich with a typical lack of nuance, White House Down is too much of not enough, showcasing action that's the same old bombs-and-bullets routine only more, which doesn't make it better. The gunfire is triggered by a political conspiracy plotted from civics lessons, populated by characters whose backstories are over-shared to the brink of who cares? Just pull the pin, already.
When it works, Emmerich's movie is Die Hard With an Executive Order, down to the sleeveless T worn by Tatum in his sweatiest moments as U.S. Capitol cop John Cale, who was turned down by the Secret Service but should be re-evaluated after the end credits. Cale and his recalcitrant yet bright daughter Emily (Joey King) are caught in the crossfire when terrorists occupy the White House.
Foxx plays the president in White House Down like a Republican nightmare, with egregious breaches of national security under his nose and Air Jordans on his feet. James Sawyer is a compassionate man with swagger, obvious from the intro when ordering his chopper convoy to buzz the Lincoln Memorial for a personal affirmation moment. Through the movie's slow buildup we learn President Sawyer's agenda: feed the poor, end all wars and leave good photo ops.
It's the second goal getting Sawyer in trouble, when the mean ol' military industrial complex begins a coup that nobody at the Pentagon appears to have gotten the memo about. Janitors and home theater repairmen sneak bombs and overkill artillery into the White House and Capitol, with global conflagration in mind. There's an implausible mastermind with stretched reasoning for carrying a patriotic grudge, but James Woods is involved, so you buy into it.
What's a dazzling pacifist like Sawyer supposed to do? Pick up the nearest automatic weapon or rocket launcher and go ballistic, assured by action movie logic that he won't need to reload. He already has a pimped-out ride for the occasion, a supremely armored limo capable of absorbing bullets like love bugs and taking a Bandit dive into a pool. That's a nifty sequence, fresh in comparison to Emmerich's shootouts, tripwire explosions and airborne escapades.
It's too bad the bromantic chemistry developed between Tatum and Foxx during filming doesn't come through on screen. Foxx's casting won't avoid Obama comparisons so he plays the role close to his vest, without irreverence, because that could be seen as disrespectful, but the result is too presidential. For all his climbing, sliding and shooting, the character doesn't loosen up much, although you sense the actor wants to. Tatum is game for a wink-and-shoot party but the real Foxx can't come out to play.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.