Movie review: ‘White House Down’ seems very familiar

Ed Symkus
Channing Tatum stars in "White House Down." More Content Now

More Content Now

The title gave it away to me. Even though, since I don’t watch preview trailers, I knew nothing about this film except that it starred Channing Tatum, I had a nagging feeling that I’d already seen it. In fact it was a feeling that I had seen it quite recently.

And I had, just last March. Except with a different cast and director, and just a slightly different storyline, it was called “Olympus Has Fallen.” You know, that movie about North Koreans violently taking over the White House, in which Olympus was the code word for the White House, upon which there was a “coordinated attack.” Right, that movie where demands were made and hostages were killed, the movie that featured a heroic former Army guy in the right place at the right time who became involved in “one of those one man against the world deals.”

In “White House Down,” the villains are Americans. The White House again faces a coordinated attack. Demands are made, hostages are killed and, yeah, a heroic former Army guy in the right place at the right time is involved in “one of those one man against the world deals.”

Pretty close. But the difference is that “Olympus” was a good movie. “White House” is not. There are a few passable action sequences, but on the whole, the film plays out sluggishly, pouring on the thriller clichés, never allowing its characters get in the way of yet another opportunity to let bullets fly.

Those characters include President Jamie Foxx, Capitol Police Force member Channing Tatum, Secret Service honcho James Woods, Secret Service Agent Maggie Gyllenhaal, and pesky little girl hostage Joey King, as the daughter of Tatum.

One morning, John Cale (Tatum) heads to the White House to be interviewed for a Secret Service job, and it’s apparently “bring your daughter to interview day”; Walker (Woods) is resigning in a week; Finnerty (Gyllenhaal) hasn’t slept in a week; and suspicious-looking guys skulk through the White House in maintenance outfits (with guns and silencers and masks in their pockets).

Luckily, when that coordinated attack begins, Cale, having blown that interview, is on a White House tour with his demanding daughter. He manages to grab a gun and then does what a hero is supposed to do against bad guys in an impossible-odds situation.

Viewers would probably like to know what’s going on, why all of this is happening. Well, the flip-flopping script first explains that it’s for big money. Then it’s blamed on an act of revenge. Then the cause is relegated to political differences, among Cabinet members, concerning the world stage. Each explanation makes less sense.

If you’re into an Everyman stuck in an extraordinary situation scenario, Tatum, who holds his own here, is your man. But no one else is of much interest. That happens a lot in films by Roland Emmerich (“The Day After Tomorrow,” “Independence Day”), who’s known for destructive set pieces, rather than being an actor’s director. To top it off, this one just refuses to end, adding still more ridiculous complications even after the story has reached a passably satisfactory conclusion.

But at least we learn a few new terms: The president is referred to as “The Package”; people who want to kill him are part of the “Threat Matrix”; his private limo is called “Ground Force One”; and the code word for the White House in this version of the story is “The Castle.”

Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.


Written by James Vanderbilt; directed by Roland Emmerich

With Channing Tatum, Jamie Fox, James Woods, Maggie Gyllenhaal

Rated PG-13