A "Whiteout," we are told early on in the new film of the same name, is what happens when “an unholy set of weather patterns converge, and the world falls away.”
“Whiteout” the movie is what happens when an unholy set of poorly executed action scenes, awful acting and cinematic clichés converge. It’s a thriller that doesn’t thrill, which is as damning a statement as you can say about this type of movie. Based on the Greg Rucka/Steve Lieber graphic novel of the same name, it has reportedly been on the shelf for over a year. Any doubt as to why the movie collected dust rather than ticket sales becomes clear very quickly.
The film begins in 1957, with a Russian cargo plane flying over Antarctica. The subsequent plane crash sets the table for the movie and is the most exciting sequence in the entire film. Jump ahead five decades, and we find U.S. Marshall Carrie Stetko (Kate Beckinsale), who has been stationed at a U.S. research station for 2 years. Still haunted by personal demons, Stetko is ready to return to civilization and turn in her badge. She’s due to board the last flight out in two days, before the Antarctic winter sets in and plunges the area into darkness for six months.
Her travel plans are put on hold when a popsicle (that’s the term used to describe a dead body out there) is found nearby. He’s been murdered by a pick ax to the chest, making this the first official homicide to take place in Antarctica.
The brutal conditions of the South Pole are a key supporting character here. Filmed in Manitoba, Canada, the movie constantly warns that being outside for more than a few minutes could kill you. Loss of motor functions and mobility happen rapidly. And in case it still doesn’t sink in, the approaching storm is used as a bridge between scenes to remind us that, "Hey, it’s REALLY cold out there!" [At least the science in the film is largely sound, LiveScience reports.]
As Marshall Stetko tries to piece together what happened, her investigation takes her to a Russian research station in Vostock. Accompanied by a young pilot named Delfry (Columbus Short) she runs into and narrowly escapes the ax-wielding killer. Aside from having really bad aim with his ax, the killer apparently knows the backstreets of Antarctica, because he is able to navigate around the continent without anyone seeing or noticing him coming or going.
Gabriel Macht follows up the disastrous “The Spirit” with a supporting turn here as a special investigator for the United Nations. The UN sent him to the Tundra to control the flow of information, to prevent an international incident.
Beckinsale is badly miscast here. You never really buy her in the role, even during one particularly squeamish scene where she pays the price for being exposed to the elements. Director Dominic Sena (“Gone in 60 Seconds,” “Swordfish”) interrupts the present-day with abrupt flashbacks to the incident that landed her in Antarctica, but these only serve to take the audience completely out of the story.
The script does Beckinsale no favors, either. She had to mutter several lines that had the audience at the screening I attended laughing out loud.
Short is basically along for comic relief, while Alex O’Loughlin also stars as a cocky pilot. Tom Skerritt, who looks more and more like Kris Kristofferson every day, co-stars as the base doctor and Beckinsale’s character’s closest friend.
Bad dialogue aside, the film undercuts itself with so much exposition, it flirts with self-parody. Everything is explained ad nauseum. Unusual stitching on a field wound? Let’s not just show it, let’s have a character SAY IT OUT LOUD.
When Beckinsale, Macht and Short find the Russian plane that crashed 50 years earlier, they re-enact the crime scene, talking out loud to each other, exactly as it happened (we know this because we saw it happen in the opening sequence, remember), in less than a minute. It was like watching a scene from a mutant super-powered “C.S.I.”
Then there’s the climax of the film. Taking place outdoors in 65-below zero temperatures, with hurricane-class winds and snow swirling, it’s a 3-way chase scene between our two heroes and the killer. You would think if there was any area of this film the director of “Gone in 60 Seconds” and “Swordfish” would excel at, is in the staging of the action scenes.
You would be fair to think that. And you would be wrong.
The big chase winds up being a plodding bore. Remember the old Batman TV show, when Batman & Robin would climb up the side of a building, one painfully slow step at a time? Picture that, only horizontally and in the snow, and you have an idea of what happens in “Whiteout.”
When the big twist at the end finally arrives, it’s so poorly delivered that any potential impact is missed. As you walk out of the theater, you find yourself wondering why some of these characters made the decisions they made. You also ask yourself the same thing about the filmmakers responsible for this mess.
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