Amid the summer glut of brainless, overproduced action movies, do we really need a “Die Hard” movie set at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.? Well, yes we do, if it delivers such a jolt of lightning-bolt excitement that your system is still crackling hours later. “White House Down” is wonderfully violent and often laugh-out-loud funny, a shopworn premise resuscitated as a sweaty, rousing, ironic, intense, movie-love-reaffirming free-for-all.
Dateline: Washington, D.C. Channing Tatum is a divorced veteran working as a politician’s bodyguard. He’s a scrapper, but sensitive enough that his spunky preteen daughter (Joey King) can reduce him to a sad-eyed puppy with a few well-placed guilt darts. On the very day he stumbles through a Secret Service job interview, the White House locks down under a terrorist assault. With his daughter inside. And the president, played as an honorable Poindexter by Jamie Foxx.
The demolition derby genre mandates a certain amount of predictability, but Roland “King of Smithereens” Emmerich races us from one sweaty-palmed set piece to the next. Having blown the presidential residence to toothpicks in “Independence Day,” Emmerich turns the East Wing, West Wing and Oval Office into jungle gyms for bravura physical invention.
With the president’s protection force out of commission, Tatum improvs with whatever weapons come to hand. There’s a particularly nice moment in the presidential kitchen involving a toaster swung by the cord. Tatum’s everyman hero isn’t eager to put himself in harm’s way. Before leaping into some daredevil encounter, he’ll mutter under his breath, “This is really dumb.” The genius of the piece is that the audience responds, “Yeah. Go for it.”
Tatum has never gravitated to manly man roles, and here he balances two-fisted acrobatics with his familiar mellow vibe. Foxx, as the bespectacled, Nicorette-chomping chief executive, makes a great sidekick. With one foot firmly planted in the Tom Clancy action-thriller world, the movie flirts with squirrelly deadpan humor in which preposterous stuff happens anyway. By the time the two are racing the presidential limo in circles while trying to aim a rocket launcher at their enemies, you simply have to surrender to the moment’s trashy brilliance.