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Popcorn pleasure

moviewhitehousedownWhen the White House gets attacked, who better than SMA (Sexiest Man Alive), Channing Tatum, and Django Unchained Jamie Foxx to save the day? And who better to blow stuff up than Roland Emmerich, who has his characters cheekily observe right at the beginning that the White House was exploded by the aliens in his film Independence Day?

Like Olympus Has Fallen just months ago, this is essentially Die Hard in the White House, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Olympus was R-rated, had Gerard Butler as a discredited member of the Secret Service who is the only one who can save the day, and Aaron Eckert as the president.

White House Down is PG-13, has Tatum as Cale, just turned down for a Secret Service job (in a process that is completely imaginary) and on a White House tour with his daughter (even more hilariously imaginary). Let’s just stipulate that if you want to be in the Secret Service it takes more than a ten minute job interview even with Maggie Gyllenhaal giving you the third degree.

And, in case anyone is not clear on this, let me say that White House tours are not conducted by low-key history lovers, they do not go anywhere near the residence or the West Wing, the president doesn’t stop by to chat with the tourists, and you can be sure that if someone needs to use the bathroom, they never, ever, ever tell them to just run on along downstairs and meet up with the group afterward.

But what the heck, we just want to get to the bang bang, so as Cale’s daughter, Emily (Joey King) goes off to the bathroom, after intercepting the president (Foxx) for an impromptu interview for her YouTube channel, the bad guys attack.

And the equivalent of Hans Gruber (I don’t want to deprive you of the ten seconds it will take to figure out who it is) has everything planned perfectly and the goons and techies to carry it all out — except they did not know they’d have to deal with SMA Tatum, who has to save the President, democracy, and his daughter and (spoiler alert) is up to the task.

Yes, this is “Die Hard in the White House,” again, but Tatum has that rare Bruce Willis combination of self-deprecating charm and physical confidence to make this a popcorn pleasure. And the wild leaps of imagination are not as funny or gripping as the too-true elements like the jurisdictional squabbling in the face of attack.

don’t think we will ever unselfconsciously enjoy the massive destruction of iconic symbols of our democracy (I even winced hard seeing it in the pre-9/11 Independence Day and skip that part when it’s on TV). I don’t think we should. But Tatum and Foxx and Emmerich remind us that what the symbols stand for: courage, integrity, optimism to the point of irrationality, and, of course, summer popcorn movies.

Parents should know that this film has constant peril and violence, with many characters injured and killed, chases, explosions, guns, missiles, grenades, crashes, massive destruction of historic landmarks, and assassinations. Characters use strong language (s-words, one f-word) and there is a mild sexual reference.

Family discussion: Can we enjoy the fictional destruction of iconic landmarks in an era of terrorism? There are several different kinds of bad guys in this movie — which is the worst and why? Which surprised you the most?

It’s niftily done, a satisfying popcorn pleasure, largely due to Tatum and Foxx, who, like Bruce Willis, have just the charm and physicality to carry off the action sequences and the banter.

— Nell Minow

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