Roland Emmerich, the German-born director of Wagnerian excess and operatic spectacle, is far smarter than the average blockbuster nine-to-fiver. His movies, not least the enjoyably absurd Independence Day and the preposterous eco-morality tale The Day After Tomorrow, serve up grand vistas of existential terror but with all the satirical edge of Mad magazine and stoopidity of speed-addled cartoon buffoon Roger Ramjet.
Emmerich may also have more in common with Dr Strangelove than his many critics would wish to admit. He is in fact a B-movie director with a big budget who knows both his audiences very well – the air-punching meatheads who whoop along to the hardware and ballistics and the smirking ironists who dig his grandiose showmanship and the sly political undercurrents of his films.
He’s on cracking form in this high-velocity romp set in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Sadly he doesn’t quite go as far as dumping the USS John F. Kennedy onto The White House but the elaborate action sequences - terrorism porn if you will - are a treat and you can be sure Mrs Roosevelt and Jackie O wouldn't have approved of the way he’s redecorated the Green Room and The Oval Office.
Jamie Foxx plays President Sawyer, a peacenik Commander-in- Chief who is about to present a Middle East peace plan which is about as believable as an Emmerich plot. Meanwhile, Channing Tatum as security grunt John Cale (a name which may or may not reflect the director’s fondness for The Black Angel’s Death Song) has just been turned down for his dream job as a Secret Service agent guarding the Prez.
Their paths cross just as a bunch of terrorists take over the place, with the ease with which one might hijack a ride at Funderland, and proceed to raise merry hell as they seek out Sawyer. Naturally, he's high-tailed it with Cale, His Only Hope for survival. What follows is essentially Die Hard in The White House. Actually, it’s Die Hard in The White House does Air Force One because the Air Jordan-wearing, Nicorette-chomping Prez Sawyer proves that he's a bit handy with a rocket launcher, especially when he’s tearing up the White House's manicured lawn in the Presidential limo with an armoured personnel carrier full of baddies in hot pursuit.
While Foxx does a decent impression of Obama, Tatum is fine and functional as a John McClane clone with a nice line in wisecracks in the face of certain death. The absurdity is slathered on in industrial sludge and the two leads may well be the Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder of the action blockbuster.
White House Down has had its nose bloodied at the US box office by the very similar, but humourless, Olympus Has Fallen. For a lighter take on the imminent fall of Western Civilisation, Emmerich’s arched eyebrow always delivers more bang for your buck. Crass and as subtle as a Tomahawk missile arcing towards a chemical dump, it’s dumb, dunderheaded and great, great fun.