If achievement in grandiose cinematic destruction were a category at the Academy Awards, director Roland Emmerich would be swimming in Oscar gold.

With films like Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 under his explosives belt, Emmerich has become the undisputed master of cataclysmic disaster in Hollywood with methods (ranging from aliens, to climate change, to Godzilla) that are as subtle as a foghorn. For his newest big-budget endeavor, Emmerich targets a subject with which he has history: the White House. Having gleefully destroyed it twice before in his films (Independence Day and 2012), Emmerich is back for round three in White House Down, a silly, trigger-happy film that scales back his signature global destruction for more contained demolition. But don’t fret; it’s still just as preposterous.

White House Down follows John Cale (Channing Tatum), a Capitol policeman hoping to snag a job with the Secret Service to impress his politics-obsessed 11-year-old daughter (Joey King) who keeps him at arms length (you know, because every teenage girl’s favorite channel is C-SPAN). When he botches his interview in the West Wing, Cale saves face with his daughter by piggybacking on a White House tour. Not on the itinerary: being in the line of fire when a group of paramilitary mercenaries lay siege to the place, demand $400 million for the life of President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx), and prepare to enact a bigger plan (hint: nuclear war). A soldier at heart, Cale vows to protect the president, setting in motion a chase movie confined to the many, many rooms of “the safest house in the world.” Not anymore, and certainly not in 2013, when White House Down isn’t even the first film of the year to center around the overthrowing of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

In March’s Olympus Has Fallen, a former Secret Service bodyguard must fight to save the president from a terrorist group that barrel through the nation’s capital. Sound familiar? However, unlike the completely forgettable Olympus Has Fallen, which seemed to live on a blissful ignorance toward its ludicrous story, White House Down thrives on a palpable sense of willful irony. Emmerich is no stranger to being tongue-in-cheek about his outlandish plots, even going as far as to directly acknowledge his own take-down of the White House in Independence Day as part of this film’s tour.

Unfortunately for Emmerich, it seems as though some of the irony is of the unintentional sort. One of the film’s running notions is Foxx’s peace-seeking president’s motto, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Although repeated throughout the film, it’s a forced theme that can never be taken seriously when the villain’s motivation is violence to end all violence, and the hero is toting around an automatic rifle he stole off a dead guy the president just shot. It all becomes inadvertent hilarity when the president actually begins to use a pen as a weapon, to no avail.

It would be easy to condemn the film for all of its faults, but when Emmerich does hit the mark with his self-aware mockery, it is usually through the banter shared by Cale and Sawyer. As they run through the various wings of the White House, leaving no wing undamaged, Tatum and Foxx generate the delicate balance between comedy and energetic violence that is needed to keep an audience invested in a lengthy action film (this one clocking in at over two hours and 15 minutes). Tatum does justice to the dreamy good guy appeal that begs to be cheered for as he aims to be a better father and a better man in the face of crisis. Foxx does well alongside Tatum, and seems to be having a blast while doing his best Obama impression and playing off the inherent irony of a president in a situation that requires him to use a rocket launcher. As one Secret Service agent says, “That’s not something you see every day.”

Just as in the real world of politics, the supporting cast is peppered with colorful characters that, while seemingly important, are never given much to do. Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Woods represent the president’s Secret Service detail caught on various ends of the crisis. Richard Jenkins steps in as the Speaker of the House, kept safely in a bunker to advise the situation. And on the nefarious side of things is Jason Clarke, who is particularly intense as the mercenary leader hell-bent on finding Cale before he throws anymore kinks in their plan. Shown now and then to break up what would be endless sequences of action and gunfire, these secondary players (and first-rate actors) all spout out just enough political and technical jargon to keep the film’s narrative moving along, but never enough to alienate its mainstream audience.

Perhaps Emmerich’s greatest achievement is how effectively he takes advantage of his presidential setting, as if it were a playground on which he aims to try out every toy. Acting as its own guided tour of the White House, Cale and Sawyer’s journey to evade their armed adversaries uses the front lawn for a wild car chase, the hallways for some gun fighting, the Press Room as a boxing ring, the roof as a rocket launch pad, and even the elevator shafts for some indoor climbing. Emmerich is nothing if not adventurous with the space he is given, something that keeps his film packed with anticipation for what they will destroy next.

Even with its senseless violence, White House Down arises as relatively harmless summer movie escapism that never strains your brain with political nonsense or insults your intelligence with an embellished notion that it is even remotely plausible. With its release, one can only hope that, after two takeovers in less than a year, the Secret Service can lockdown the president’s digs for the near future so that Hollywood can move on.

Rating: 2 out of 4 stars

“White House Down” was released nationally on June 28, 2013.

Trailer Courtesy of Sony Pictures.

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Featured image: Channing Tatum stars in Columbia Pictures’ “White House Down,” also starring Jamie Foxx. Photo Credit: Reiner Bajo. © 2013 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.