Screenwriter James Vanderbilt (“Zodiac,” “The Amazing Spider-Man”) realizes there’s nothing less exciting than unrelenting action. He takes a stock story and turns it into an excuse to unleash expertly placed red herrings, whip-smart comic surprises, left-hook plot reversals and a bit of heart.
There are some fine actors here playing characters who surprise us. Emmerich gives Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Woods and Richard Jenkins some nice moments in the spotlight.
There are even some extraneous players who open up the story for a few moments to let it breathe. Nicolas Wright is a sneaky delight as a White House tour guide, and Andrew Simms whimpers winningly as a blowhard political commentator caught in the crossfire.
Those grace notes add a nice extra dimension to a film that never wastes a moment, while laying waste to every structure on the White House grounds.
You may see “White House Down” as a mindless escapist thriller. Your sister may see it as a raucous comedy. Foreigners may see it as a satire of America as a failed state.
But everyone should see it.