It takes slightly longer than three minutes for diminished mental capacity to set in during the frigid Whiteout — an Antarctica-set murder mystery with a fatally low body temperature.
Kate Beckinsale’s confounding leading-lady lameness persists in this plodding mess, the script of which feels dragged from underneath rubber bands in a junk drawer. (It somehow took four writers to adapt the story from Greg Rucka’s graphic novel.)
Their dialogue is unintentionally riotous (“Unless Haden was smuggling radioactive jellybeans, he must have a partner”) and their misdirection so painfully obvious, it’s like a magician shouting at you that he really has no bird up his sleeve.
Whiteout opens in 1957, aboard a plane carrying secret cargo and Russian comrades who quickly turn on each other. As the plane plummets toward crusted ice shelves, flames licking the Antarctic ice make for a desolate digital sight.
Flash forward to today, where U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko (Beckinsale) has taken the worst post on the planet to banish memories of a bust gone bad in Miami. She’s helped by the kind words of Tom Skerritt’s Dr. John Fury (a great character name wasted on a terrible movie). “Always a dull moment,” he cracks of the day-to-day boredom on base. Good diagnosis for the movie, Doc.
On the verge of bailing for the winter-over — when bitter wind and snowstorms annihilate the sun for six months — Stetko discovers a corpse out on the ice. As the first-ever murder in Antarctica, it will draw international attention should Stetko not wrap the case up before leaving.
As Stetko’s investigation uncovers the identity, and shady motives of the deceased, a trio of men falls in as key players. Columbus Short is a helpful pilot, Alex O’Loughlin is an enigmatic Australian transplant and there’s a secretive United Nations liaison who’s just dropped by (played by Gabriel Macht, who sounds as if he overdubbed all his lines into a poorly miked Folgers can). And, yes, it will tie back to the plane crash.
The U.S. Marshal Service might have a defamation case against Whiteout, given that its portrayal of said officers ranges from corrupt to moronic to the point of lunacy. Essentially, Whiteout suggests that if you can figure it out, you’ll probably qualify. Expect an influx of applications, then.
As Stetko, Beckinsale doesn’t seem particularly tough, authoritative or knowledgeable, and her performance calls her out as unrepentantly lazy. She’s so electrifying in Nothing But the Truth that it’s clear a good director can get a rise from her. Here, she’s a pathetically blank slate — wispy even when her frostbitten fingers are fixed to freezing metal.
Better actresses than Beckinsale couldn’t sell a flailing flashback line like, “Ever since I saw Weiss’s body, it’s been like 85 degrees and 80-percent humidity.” Morose and disengaged, Beckinsale musters up all the facial expressions of a coma patient — a vacant cross between Nicole Kidman and Mary Louise Parker relegated to damsel status during the final brawl.
Director Dominic Sena (Swordfish) does little to visually distract from the rampant idiocy. How many shots of freeze-burned bodies or planes skimming Antarctic mountains can one movie contain? Scenes on the tundra are kept to a minimum, as there’s no need to trot out that chintzy green-screen effect any more than necessary. And “action” scenes consist of two people trudging slowly with the aid of guide rope.
John Frizzell’s frenetic score futilely scrambles to bring fortitude to the proceedings. But Whiteout’s hack-and-slash sensibility just turns it into Scream: Antarctica, and the anticlimactic ending throws in a last-ditch switcheroo for no reason.
Comparatively, 30 Days of Night and Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia remake are chilly-climate masterpieces, and John Carpenter’s The Thing remains the perfect icebound chiller. There are beer coolers that will induce more shivers than Whiteout.