Nothing less than the chilling prospect of the president of the United States being seized and spirited away as a key political hostage and pawn is the brazen theme and plot point of the current film, Roland Emmerich’s “White House Down.”
The president, played by Jamie Foxx, is coopted by no less than his security chief (James Woods), who bears a grudge against the entire nation he’s sworn to serve and defend, because his only son was killed in battle in the Middle East.
That’s the first key plot point that the viewer has to accept and process—and, it’s no easy task! But, it turns out that the monumental scheme to bring down the US government is aided and abetted by other traitors, some of them much higher-ranking officials than the president’s security head!
Those cumulative acts of high and low treason are difficult to take, especially for American viewers, because they reveal shocking cracks and schisms in the nation’s top leadership structure itself!
It is at this point that the addled viewer has to remind himself that the film is a work of fiction—and prays that its dire events will never be affirmed in actuality!
That major “believability” stumbling block apart, the first half of “White House Down” is chillingly effective as it credibly unspools a complex web of subvert actions that result in the US president finding himself trapped and held at the mercy of traitors whose loyalty he once implicitly presumed.
The only fly in his captors’ ointment is the unexpected presence at the White House of a law enforcement officer (Channing Tatum) who turns out to be the beleaguered chief executive’s only defender and hope for survival!
In true movie hero fashion, Tatum’s character wages a veritable one-man war against an army of terrorists—with the occasional help of the president himself!
The early action scenes are so well-executed that the viewer is caught up in their frenetic unction, and hopes against hope that Tatum’s solitary rescue attempt will prove successful.
Unfortunately, the film’s second half falls apart, because the production gets carried away and thinks up too many wild and woolly complications that distend the movie’s otherwise believable story, and make its upbeat ending a most improbable outcome.
The first flaky fillip is the undue importance given to Tatum’s adolescent daughter, who is made to perform heroic tasks much too incredible for words. Next, the scenario’s main nemesis is made too powerful with the inclusion of other improbably brilliant minions, like a computer wiz who speedily hacks the White House’s “brain trust” for top security defense codes that will assure global domination for the bad guys!
The production makes all these complex events unreel in a blithely facile way, so we know that we’re being led through the nose—and end up resenting the crass manipulation.
Other improbable developments ensue, like the trapped president being officially replaced by his second in command—and the new president being supplanted by a third— before he’s given his just desserts and Foxx’s character finally comes into his own again!
It’s too much of a roller-coaster ride for viewers, who throw in the towel long before the film gasps its last, hyperventilating breath.
Despite these and other excesses, however, the viewers are grateful for the film’s excitingly taut first half, and for its chillingly effective depiction of a White House disintegrating under attack.
—If only the production had stopped embellishing its tall tale while the telling was good!