Between all the stuff that goes boom, stars Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum manage to develop genuine comic chemistry as two men thrown into an apocalyptic cataclysm when the U.S. government suffers a viciously violent coup. As U.S. President James Sawyer, Foxx plays a more bespectacled, less formal version of President Obama, his Nicorette gum and basketball shoes chiming unsubtly with Sawyer’s real-life counterpart. When disaster strikes first at the U.S. Capitol and shortly thereafter at the White House, an aspiring Secret Service agent named John Cale (Tatum) happens to be taking a tour of the latter with his daughter; soon, the men are playing a deadly game of cat-and-mouse, outmaneuvering their shadowy opponents and outgunning inevitable comparisons to “Olympus Has Fallen.”
That film, of course, starred Aaron Eckhart and Gerard Butler in an eerily similar story that, although often just as outlandish, looks in retrospect like a quiet, sophisticated little thriller. “White House Down,” written by James Vanderbilt and directed by Roland Emmerich (who, having also made “Independence Day” and “2012,” clearly has a fetish for destroying 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.), takes perverse glee in putting its human and architectural characters through an increasingly barbaric series of physical punishments, from that shocking blow suffered by a cute, tear-stained child to the Green Room literally going up in flames. (All the while, disas-tourists swarm the South Lawn as if they were clamoring to get into the Easter Egg Roll.)
With effects extravaganzas like “Iron Man 3,” “Star Trek Into Darkness” and “Man of Steel” already in theaters, the carnage of “White House Down” takes on the air of something disposable and utterly meaningless. By the time Sawyer shoulders a rocket-propelled grenade in the limo, the viewer’s reaction is less likely to be surprise than glazed, benumbed indifference.
That stunt occurs in one of the sequences of antic humor — in this case a Keystone Kops car chase — which, despite the tonal strangeness alongside the wanton destruction, prove that Foxx and Tatum are able heirs to the “Lethal Weapon” brand of brothers-in-arms banter. Their shtick is the best stuff in “White House Down,” which could have used more of that kind of leavening. With Hollywood mired in an escalating arms race of brute force and noisy spectacle, well-timed humor can be a potent secret weapon.
PG-13. At area theaters. Contains prolonged sequences of action and violence including intense gunfire and explosions, some profanity and a brief sexual image. 129 minutes.