Mindlessness gets a bad rap.
Ask most moviegoers, and they’ll tell you they prefer films with "substance." That have "something to say." Or have a story that "makes sense."
But sometimes, especially during the heat of summer, you just need to turn off your brain and watch stuff explode.
Thankfully, "White House Down" comes to the rescue with some of the dumbest fun you’ll have all year.
Hot on the heels of March’s darker, duller White House-under-siege actioner "Olympus Has Fallen," "White House Down" follows Capitol Police officer John Cale (Channing Tatum), who’s stuck protecting the fuddy-duddy speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins) while dreaming of life with the Secret Service.
Cale has the expertise, gained during his three tours in Afghanistan. And he’s eager to serve. He’s also looking for a way to impress his estranged 11-year-old daughter, Emily (Joey King), who idolizes President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) the way most girls her age think of Justin Bieber. She also scours WikiLeaks, wakes to presidential news alerts on her phone and has her own political channel on YouTube. Weirdo.
Cale, though, is an underachiever, something the old flame (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who’s in charge of his Secret Service interview — it’s that kind of movie — knows all too well.
She quickly dismisses Cale, but he doesn’t want to disappoint Emily, with whom he shares a playful rapport but little else. So he tells her his job prospects look good and plays along when she wants to see where he’ll be working by helping her crash a White House tour. (Because, you know, that stuff happens all the time.)
When the building is overrun by mercenaries led by "Zero Dark Thirty’s" Jason Clarke, Cale isn’t there to protect her because their fussy tour guide (Nicolas Wright) sent her downstairs, unattended, in search of a restroom. (Yes, really.)
While looking for her, Cale ends up rescuing President Sawyer, whom he’d met briefly during a chance encounter on the tour. (Oh, whatever.)
The rest of the movie is little more than scenes of Cale and Sawyer running around the crumbling White House, trying to stay alive, while generating plenty of laughs — some intentional, some not so much.
Before long, the peace-loving Sawyer, who’s making headlines for his plans to withdraw U.S. troops from the Middle East, is blowing away a bad guy in his kitchen, firing a rocket launcher from the back of Ground Force One and generally giving the proceedings a "Lethal Weapon," buddy-cop vibe.
For the most part, anyway.
At times, "White House Down" clearly embraces its inner lunacy. Take the scene in which Cale and Sawyer hop in the president’s armored limo and try to outrun two SUVs full of bad guys shooting up the White House lawn. Desperate for an escape route, they end up circling a fountain like it’s the roundabout in "European Vacation" — "There’s Big Ben, kids. Parliament." — as the gunbattle rages on live TV.
Then, things lurch back to reality as a constitutional crisis has Gyllenhaal and others debating the legalities of letting the military attempt a rescue. (That’s the Posse Comitatus Act, for all you "West Wing" fans.)
James Vanderbilt’s ("The Amazing Spider-Man") script includes the obligatory joke about the White House blowing up in "Independence Day" because "White House Down" director Roland Emmerich directed "Independence Day." (Come to think of it, Emmerich also destroyed the White House in "2012." Shouldn’t he be on some sort of watch list by now?)
Anyway, "White House Down" succeeds, such as it does, solely on the strength of Tatum’s and Foxx’s charisma. Their chemistry is about the only thing that doesn’t fall apart during the too-long action extravaganza.
It’s a good thing, because so much of what goes on around them is fairly horrible. The bad guys’ rationale is screwy. Parts are just plain idiotic. There’s some truly terrible dialogue. And the scenes of Emily being hailed as "a little hero" for uploading video of the intruders from her cellphone are cringe-worthy.
Speaking of which, there’s really no place in a movie like this for an 11-year-old. Not because she might get hurt, but because anyone who’s ever seen a movie knows she won’t. Still, the worse things get, the more they play into "White House Down’s" goofy charm.
That live-action Looney Tunes sensibility means the stakes never feel anywhere near as high as they should.
But, given all the real-life terror in the world, your brain just might thank you for the downtime.
(Christopher Lawrence is the movie reviewer for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)