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Movie review: Action-packed déjà vu

'White House Down' ups the ante with hip cast, jaw-dropping scenes

Jun. 28, 2013 - 10:22AM   |  
Trailer: 'White House Down'
Trailer: 'White House Down': In 'White House Down', Channing Tatum plays a police officer unexpectedly called upon to protect the president, played by Jamie Foxx.
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Jamie Foxx, left, and Channing Tatum up the hip quotient in 'White House Down.' (Reiner Bajo / Sony Columbia Pictures via AP)

‘White House Down’

Rated PG-13 for lots of relatively nonbloody violence. Got a rant or rave about the movies? Email cvinch@militarytimes.com.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A bunch of grungy terrorists waltzes into the White House ...

Sound familiar? It should — we saw that movie just three months ago: “Olympus Has Fallen.”

But in Hollywood, which often operates on the premise that too much is always better, we now get the heavy shot of déjà vu called “White House Down.”

How similar are they?

“OHF”: Terrorists attack the White House and the president is cornered in his iconic home with only a lone Secret Service agent on his side. “WHD”: Terrorists attack the White House and the president is cornered in his iconic home with only a lone Secret Service agent wannabe on his side.

Catch the difference?

But while “WHD” may feel derivative, it has a couple of significant edges on its predecessor. For one, the leads are Jamie Foxx (the commander in chief) and Channing Tatum (the Secret Service agent wannabe).

“OHF” counterparts Aaron Eckhart and Gerard Butler are fine actors, but their hip quotient isn’t nearly as high. Come on ... President Jamie Foxx? Can’t get much hipper than that.

More importantly, unlike “OHF,” which played its bombast totally straight, “WHD” makes clear that it is all the way in on the big, loud, dumb joke. It’s a lot easier to get onboard and enjoy the ride when a film like this makes crystal-clear that the goofiness is wholly intentional.

And man, does this flick bring the goofy, with enough wildly over-the-top touches to fill a couple of pages of this newspaper.

Start with the terrorists. They dress up as janitors and stroll right on in as easy as if they were stopping off at a 7-Eleven for a Slurpee, then kill every White House security officer in less than 10 minutes.

Their leaders are Stenz (Jason Clarke), a former spec ops commando; Tyler (Jimmi Simpson), a master hacker; and Killick (Kevin Rankin), a white supremacist psycho. They’re in league with the head of the president’s Secret Service detail (James Woods), who harbors dark secrets.

(I’m not giving anything away; in a film that proudly refuses to overestimate the intelligence of its audience and telegraphs all its punches, Woods is shown slowly and deliberately taking off his U.S. flag lapel pin before the action gets rolling, so you know he’ll be revealed as a bad guy at some point.)

Tatum is John Cale, a Capitol Hill cop assigned to shadow the Republican speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins).

Cale happens to be interviewing at the White House for a Secret Service job when the attack is launched. He and Foxx end up running around the building’s back rooms, elevator shafts and secret tunnels (including the one JFK used to sneak Marilyn in and out), trading gunfire with Woods and the terrorists.

Each scene is more of a jaw-dropper than the one before — Delta Force choppers skimming up the Potomac River, F-22 Raptors locking missiles on the Oval Office, an armored car chase on the North Lawn, a nuclear missile launch on a jumbo jet carrying the vice president and his staff, and on and on and on.

In other words, it’s your standard noisy frenetic big-budget wackadoo popcorn summer action movie.

And the most amazing touch may well be the theme buried under the mayhem — the idea that a military-industrial complex whose fortunes depend on perpetuating as much conflict in as many corners of the globe as possible will go to any lengths to protect its interests.

Two-plus hours of preposterous action silliness and a plausible message to boot?

Sold.

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