WHITE HOUSE DOWN
At the start of the Roland Emmerich thriller White House Down, Channing Tatum's military veteran John Cale is seen applying for a position with the president of the United States' Secret Service detail. By the film's end, he'll have rescued hostages, shot innumerable bad guys, ensured peace in the Middle East, averted nuclear apocalypse, and saved the commander in chief's life several times over. In short: most impressive job interview ever.
It's tempting, meanwhile, to call White House Down just about the most fun ever, at least so far as big, dumb, noisy, cornball blow-'em-ups are concerned; Emmerich's latest is such a zippy, guilty-pleasure good time that even the elements that make you roll your eyes become inseparable from the elements you adore. Those seeking subtlety at the cineplex can look elsewhere (and, at present, in vain). But those merely wanting to while away a couple of air-conditioned hours with enjoyably aggressive action spectacle and alternately clever and agreeably dopey banter should have an absolute blast at this thing - it's the ne plus ultra of summertime popcorn entertainment and, in a terrific surprise, far more emotionally resonant than we had any right to expect.
In all honesty, the phrase "emotionally resonant" is one I never thought I'd apply to an outing by the director of Independence Day, Godzilla, and The Day After Tomorrow, unless, perhaps, it came at the tail end of a sentence beginning with "Emmerich's movie isn't the least bit ... ." Yet with Tatum as the star of this adrenalin-fueled tale - one that concerns a violent coup d'état within the administration of Jamie Foxx's President James Sawyer - White House Down proves as gut-level satisfying as it is mindlessly diverting. A younger, fitter John McClane with more artillery and his own pair of shoes, Tatum's Cale is a first-rate ass-kicker, as handy with firearms as he is at hand-to-hand combat and behind the wheel of the president's limousine. (Events in the film rarely get more deliriously, joyously ludicrous than when Cale speeds in circles around the White House's outdoor fountain while Foxx's prez, from the limo's backseat, brandishes a rocket launcher.) The supremely soulful Tatum, however, also ensures that Cale emerges as the most human of he-men, particularly in the scenes involving his 11-year-old daughter Emily (the polished, confident Joey King), a burgeoning political junkie whose uncomfortable estrangement from her father lends the film considerable dramatic heft. There are plenty of instances of stomach-tightening peril in White House Down, with the early, fiery destruction of the Capitol building and a later attack on Air Force One delivering especially queasy jolts. But its star's unforced, ever-welcome naturalism and inspiring commitment to character allow the big-budget proceedings to also remain recognizably down-to-earth. With Tatum in the lead, the film doesn't just quicken the pulse; it seems in actual possession of a pulse.
It's also in possession of some rather spectacular supporting performers - James Woods, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Michael Murphy, and weirdo supreme Jimmi Simpson among them - and, best of all, a giddy sense of humor about its own ridiculousness; life as we know it may be in crisis, but Emmerich understands that Armageddon goes down a whole lot easier when accompanied by jokes. (In one of the most riotous, and certainly the most self-referential, the camera zooms in on Nicolas Wright's effusive tour guide as he describes the president's residence as "the building that got blown up in Independence Day.") As charmingly goofy as it is legitimately exciting, and, even at 135 minutes, never the least bit dull, White House Down bears more than a surface resemblance to Olympus Has Fallen, that unpleasant, headache-inducing springtime hit in which a grimly self-righteous Gerard Butler made the world safe for democracy. (Interestingly, both films find their speakers of the House momentarily promoted to the country's highest office, and as those roles have been played by Morgan Freeman and this new film's Richard Jenkins, make excellent arguments for the order of presidential succession.) It's Olympus Has Fallen, however, in a jovial mood and given a far more accomplished presentation, and it sends you out of the auditorium feeling unexpectedly great. Scoff at the silliness if you like. But Channing Tatum busting through window panes and Jamie Foxx's president telling a homegrown terrorist "Go f--- yourself"? That's America, damn it.
As the film she's co-starring in is deathly formulaic and sometimes close to criminally stupid, it's a difficult determination to make. But in director Paul Feig's buddy comedy The Heat, Melissa McCarthy may be even funnier than she was in Feig's Bridesmaids. It's entirely possible that she's funnier here than she's been in anything. A traditional, and traditionally lazy, mismatched-cops offering given a female slant - with Sandra Bullock's lonely, hyper-tense FBI agent chasing down a drug kingpin alongside McCarthy's no-nonsense, Boston-based detective - Feig's latest, with its doltish genre narrative by screenwriter Katie Dippold, is a considerable comedown from Bridesmaids. Yet I'd be doing his new movie a major disservice if I didn't admit to cackling at The Heat almost throughout, mostly because McCarthy is so off-the-charts hysterical in it. Casually (and not-so-casually) insulting everyone who crosses her path and dropping and hurling expletives with crackerjack timing, the dazzlingly inspired comedienne makes her every second of screen time a joy, and she gets a wonderful rapport going with Bullock; together, they're practically the new standard-bearers for chemistry triumphing over decidedly iffy material. (Feig's film actually boasts a bunch of actors giving their all to sketchy roles, as the quick-witted ensemble also boasts Demián Bichir, Marlon Wayans, Michael Rapaport, Jane Curtin, Tom Wilson, Tony Hale, and the sharp young comic Spoken Reasons.) Based on the movie's incessant, unfunny previews - to say nothing of my fear that McCarthy, a mere four months after the horror of Identity Thief, would again find herself unfairly humiliated in a leading role - I'll admit that I rather dreaded seeing The Heat. Now I'm wondering how just quickly Hollywood can fashion a sequel ... and against all expectation, kind of hoping that it happens soon.