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REVIEW: Poor plot, violence bring “White House Down” crashing down

REVIEW: Poor plot, violence bring “White House Down” crashing down

Director Roland Emmerich has undoubtedly found his niche in the film industry. With a resume that includes “Independence Day,” “2012,” and “The Day After Tomorrow,” he can’t seem to stay away from action-packed adventures that usually threaten the destruction of the planet.  His latest film, “White House Down,” is no different, with a predictable, muddled storyline and an overblown excess of violence.

Channing Tatum stars as John Cale, a Capitol policeman who dreams of working with the Secret Service – partially because he believes protecting the President is “the most important job ever” and partially to impress his daughter, Emily (Joey King), who fawns over politicians the way most 11-year-old girls fawn over boy bands.

As they take a White House tour, terrorists launch a full-scale attack on Washington, D.C., bombing the Capitol and overtaking the White House.  Emily goes missing, but Cale finds President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx), and the unlikely duo then team up to bring down the terrorists and retake the White House.

It may not be the most original plot – especially coming from Emmerich – but it does have the potential to be at least mildly entertaining. And for a while, it is.  The audience is drawn in as Cale and President Sawyer fight terrorists while trying to make sense of the sudden invasion. 

Writer James Vanderbilt seems equally befuddled about what he wants out of the movie.  He gives no initial insight into who these terrorists are, why they are attacking, or how they could so easily put the nation’s capital into mass panic.  They are disorganized, and all seem to have different, conflicting reasons for planning their attack.  As their demands pile up and begin to border on the ridiculous, it becomes clear that these extremists may well start World War III. 

The logical response to such a threat is full-on military retaliation, but Emmerich (of course) takes that to its extreme. The violence is shocking in its intensity, and in fact hurts the film more than it adds to the action sequences. Vanderbilt’s script tries to balance the aggression with occasional humor, but even that can’t tone down the near-constant explosions.

On top of all the madness, the entire world is watching the ordeal live via the dozens of conveniently placed news cameras. Granted, if such an attack were to really happen, reporters by the tens of thousands would flock to the scene, but in the film they are distracting and serve no purpose other than providing unwelcome commentary.

With a July 4th weekend release, Emmerich was aiming for another “Independence Day” – a patriotic, action-packed summer blockbuster. But his “White House” goes down in the flames of a plot packed with confusing, not captivating twists, an uncomfortable excess of violence, and the lost hope of becoming this summer’s definitive action blockbuster. 

** out of five



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