No one can make you cheer "U.S.A." un-ironically like director Roland Emmerich. The maker of "Independence Day" just loves to put the nation in peril and then have a few brave souls (in the case of "White House Down," Channing Tatum as Secret Service hopeful John Cale) defend, and ultimately save the nation, from certain doom. In "White House Down," Cale ends up on a White House tour with his political junkie 11-year-old Emily (Joey King) after an unsuccessful interview for a Secret Service job.
Leading up to the Fourth of July, there will obviously be an interest to see a movie where a brave man saves the President (Jamie Foxx) and with him the world. But before you buy your tickets, make sure your kids are ready to see the kind of unflinching violence and destruction that leaves the White House in shambles, D.C.-ers running for their lives, and the President in constant peril.
1. Does your kid get anxious about doomsday scenarios? Some kids can handle cartoonish or fantasy storylines, but when it comes to real-life scenarios, certain children can get especially anxious about the "what ifs" of widespread violence, terrorism, and national landmarks. If your kid got upset during the Blitz scene in the first "Chronicles of Narnia," the Nazi parts of "The Sound of Music," or more tellingly, any of "Independence Day," the terrorist takeover of the White House might be too much for them.
2. How much does your kid know about politics? Although political parties are never mentioned explicitly, it's obvious that President Sawyer (Foxx) is a progressive and the Speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins) and Secret Service head (James Woods) are hawkish conservatives. The "liberal" president is portrayed as a weak Commander-in-Chief who "stupidly" believes "the pen is mightier than the sword," while the conservatives are depicted as warmongers willing to destroy the White House, take civilian hostages, kill their own president, and cause a world war to please the powerful defense lobby. Neither side of the aisle comes off well, and parents may have to discuss politics after the credits roll.
3. How sensitive is your child to realistic violence? There's a big difference between stylized, unrealistic violence and the shock of incessant gun shots, explosions, and hand-to-hand combat. Although the violence isn't as grisly as "Olympus Has Fallen" (which was appropriately rated R), there is a huge body count and an upsetting number of scenes that feature violence toward Cale's 11-year-old daughter Emily (King), who is held at gunpoint, struck, and almost shot or stabbed several times. Never fear, she survives (and actually saves the day more than once), but she faces down the trigger-happy terrorists alarmingly often.
4. Do you worry about the amount of romance/language? The language is limited to a single, pivotal (and Presidential) use of "f-k you" (now a common occurrence in PG-13 movies), the occasional "s-t," "assh-e," as well as the insult "bitch," in reference to a girl. Except for the F-bomb, the language is pretty tame compared to other action thrillers. As for romance, it's basically non-existent. There is a flirty connection between Tatum's Cale and Maggie Gyllenhaal's Finnerty (who once dated in college), and one blink-and-you'll-miss-it glimpse of a couple in bed via thermal-image silhouette. In other words, no sex and just a splash of language.
5. Who should go to "White House Down"? We saw kids as young as 5 or 6 at the promotional screening, which is way too young. If you take very young children, your movie night will likely end with a scared, crying child who doesn't understand why the bad men are trying to kill the President. Most kids still in single digits are not mature enough to handle the realistic violence and the political plotline, but with the 10-12 set it depends on your kid's sensitivity to fictional depictions of high body counts and stressful hostage situations. If they've already seen movies like "Independence Day" or "Die Hard," they should be fine.