Channing Tatum-Jamie Foxx-a-680
Photo by Reiner Bajo - © 2012 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.

I can’t imagine how anyone pitched this concept to a movie studio. It’s a big summer movie from the director of Independence Day, full of huge, explosive action scenes—and completely unexpected comedy. I’ve never seen anything quite like it: not a self-parody, but a film that asks you to take it seriously at one moment, then throws out all sense of logic the next. The result is outlandish, inventive, and completely entertaining. I’m tempted to call it my Guilty Pleasure movie of the summer, but I don’t feel all that guilty.

Channing Tatum plays a divorced guy who’s trying to build a relationship with his 11-year-old daughter (Joey King) while pursuing his dream job on the President’s Secret Service staff. The President’s chief of staff (Maggie Gyllenhaal) tells him that his checkered past, plus lack of experience and education, make this impossible. But while Tatum and his wide-eyed daughter are taking a tour of the White House, the unthinkable happens: a group of homegrown terrorists take over the building, kill innumerable staff members, and hold the President (Jamie Foxx) prisoner. Tatum happens to be the only man on the scene who has even a prayer of helping the Chief Executive.

It would be foolish and wasteful to analyze the film or look for loopholes in logic. It would also be a mistake to take it too seriously—or to put it another way, more seriously than the filmmakers do. Innocent people die onscreen and that’s no laughing matter, nor is it meant to be. The threat has to be real for the comic-book heroics to gain any traction. Again, I must marvel at James Vanderbilt’s screenplay and the guidance of director Roland Emmerich, who never allows the comedy to dissipate the tension or the often-outrageous humor to undermine the drama.

Emmerich has also stocked his pond with exceptional actors including the always-welcome James Woods, Richard Jenkins, and Jason Clarke, as well as a number of lesser-known performers in showy supporting roles—like Nicolas Wright as Donnie, the White House tour guide. Tatum is just right as an ordinary guy who rises to the occasion to become an almost-invincible action hero, while Foxx has fun as a sincere—but hip—President.

In a summer with too many sequels and overhyped blockbusters, White House Down stands out as a genuine original. It may not hew to genre conventions, but it’s a lot of fun to watch.