Director : Dominic Sena
Screenplay : Jon Hoeber Erich Hoeber and Chad Hayes & Carey W. Hayes (based on the graphic novel by Greg Rucka)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2009
Stars : Kate Beckinsale (Carrie Stetko), Gabriel Macht (Robert Pryce), Tom Skerritt (Dr. John Fury), Columbus Short (Delfy), Alex O’Loughlin (Russell Haden), Shawn Doyle (Sam Murphy), Joel Keller (Jack), Jesse Todd (Rubin), Arthur Holden (McGuire), Erin Hickock (Rhonda), Bashar Rahal (Russian Pilot), Julian Cain (Russian Co-pilot)
Take away the extreme setting at the South Pole, and Whiteout doesn’t have much. The frigid temperatures, blasting snow, and constant threat of freezing to death (or at least breaking off a few body parts) gives the film a certain icy tension, but it’s not enough to cover up for the fact that it is, in essence, a relatively mediocre, by-the-numbers mystery thriller that melts from your mind as soon as you step into the sunlight.
The story begins with a group of Cold War-era Russian soldiers fighting amongst themselves on a massive cargo plane carrying a top secret and obviously valuable (and perhaps lethal) load that crashes into the frozen tundra at the bottom of the world. We then jump ahead to the present tense where we find our heroine, Carrie Steko (Kate Beckinsale), a U.S. marshal serving out the last few days of her self-imposed assignment as the lone police officer at an international Antarctic research base. She is clearly nursing some old wounds, and fragmented flashbacks shot in heated tones of yellow and orange to contrast with the cold blues and whites of her current location slowly fill in the gaps about a drug bust gone bad back in Miami.
Carrie chose the South Pole assignment because it would allow her to get away from her memories and also serve out a relatively simple duty given that there has never been a murder in Antarctica. Well, that’s not exactly true, since she and her pilot Delfy (Columbus Short) discover the corpse of a geologist who appears to have fallen from a great height way out in the middle of the tundra, although resident doctor John Fury (Tom Skerritt), who is also Carrie’s friend and confidant, informs her that the corpse has a fresh wound in his leg that has been quickly stitched up. It seems that something is rotten in the frozen wasteland, a hunch that is confirmed when a masked predator begins stalking the base with a pickaxe, thus ramming the movie into some kind of pseudo-slasher territory. Since there are only a few major characters, the mystery of the masked killer has to be complicated with the introduction of Robert Pryce (Gabriel Macht), a United Nations investigator who seems genuine enough, but also is constantly in the wrong place.
Adapted by two different teams of screenwriters from a graphic novel by Greg Rucka, Whiteout has a potentially intriguing premise and a visually arresting setting. But director Dominic Sena, who showed great promise with 1993’s stylish and disarming serial killer thriller Kalifornia before diving into slick and shallow action fare like Gone in 60 Seconds (2000) and Swordfish (2001), never seems to pull the pieces together. He also gives us utterly confused signals such as introducing Carrie, the epitome of a tough woman duking it out successfully in a predominantly masculine world, in a crass strip-and-shower sequence that reduces her to fetishized object extraordinaire. Sena manages well with the film’s big setpieces, including several major characters being trapped inside the buried cargo plane and a frenzied final chase through a massive blizzard, but it’s hard not to notice the story’s stitched-together flimsiness and the utterly useless attempts at character development (Beckinsale is a good actress, but Carrie’s wounded past is such a cliché that it feels more like a burden to her performance than a point of identification). Had it been set anywhere other than the extreme environs of the South Pole, Whiteout likely never would have made it past the drawing board.
Copyright ©2009 James Kendrick
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