True confession. Always full of mischief and mayhem, Roland Emmerich movies are guilty pleasures for me. An admittedly cheesy entertainer who aims squarely for the mainstream, the German maestro stages action with flair and delivers superior visual effects--big, small, live-action and digital. When he connects--as he did with old-style effects adventure "Independence Day" (1996) and the weather-gone-amok disaster epic "The Day After Tomorrow" (which seems to be coming true), he makes multitudes of moviegoers very happy. Even "2012" was an enjoyable E-ride if you threw any real-world logic out the window.
But when Emmerich misses, as with the 1998 disaster "Godzilla," which was made before the VFX were ready to deliver the gigantic monster (see "Pacific Rim" this summer), or the ludicrously silly "10,000 B.C.," he does so by a mile. While the modestly-budgeted Shakespeare identity mystery "Anonymous" made dramatic mistakes that crashed the movie at the 2011 box office, it marked an extraordinary accurate recreation of the period via innovative VFX.
Emmerich's return to destroying the president's residence in "White House Down" is somewhere in the middle. I would welcome the return of Channing Tatum and Joey King as a kick-ass father/daughter team, and count me among "Zero Dark Thirty" star Jason Clarke's admirers--his performance as the rogue leader of a lethal paramilitary assault team is dangerous and flawless. As long as the movie keeps moving with helicopters crashing and guns blazing, all's well; it's fun watching the interior of the White House get trashed as Tatum's would-be secret service agent fights to protect his iPhone-wielding daughter and his president (Jamie Foxx, who should have turned down this thankless role).
Unfortunately, directing dialogue is not Emmerich's strong suit, and most of the babble from the folks outside the White House who are trying to wrest control from a band of terrorists is utterly unbelievable. That Tatum shines in this messy movie is a testament to his rising stardom. He was the only actor to emerge from Ron Howard's "The Dilemma" intact. He's had an amazing year, from Steven Soderbergh's "Magic Mike" and "Side Effects" to comedy "21 Jump Street" and having Paramount delay "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" in order to expand his role. And Bennett Miller's "Foxcatcher" is still to come.
This could be Tatum's aha moment, like Tom Cruise in "Cocktail," when he carries a bad movie. At my press screening, when Tatum stripped down to his wife-beater midway through the film, applause erupted. Tatum could be our next Cruise: that rare marquee movie star with chops, sex appeal and danger, who is equally beloved by men and women.
Review round-up below; by Friday it's likely that "White House Down"'s current 53% ranking on Rotten Tomatoes will go down.