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Dustin Putman

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Whiteout  (2009)
1 Stars
Directed by Dominic Sena.
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Gabriel Macht, Tom Skerritt, Columbus Short, Alex O'Loughlin, Shawn Doyle, Joel Keller, Jesse Todd, Arthur Holden, Steve Lucescu.
2009 – 101 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for violence, grisly images, language and some nudity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, September 10, 2009.
"Whiteout" was filmed two and a half years ago, in the early months of 2007, and has sat on the shelf while Warner Bros. and Dark Castle Entertainment presumably figure out what to do with it. The film is difficult to classify not because it is all that original (it isn't), but because it never decides what it wants to be. Is it a man-against-the-elements nature adventure? Is it an investigation procedural, a sort of "CSI: Antarctica?" Is it a heist actioner involving elusive canisters from 1957 holding mysterious valuables? Could it be a drama about one woman's trauma and guilt over dark memories from her past? Or, is it a horror movie wherein the serial killer villain, adorn in mask and parka, looks like he just walked off the set of 1998's "Urban Legend?" Ultimately, "Whiteout" is all of these things and more, and isn't particularly good at any of them. When serious moments are accompanied again and again by collective widespread laughter from an otherwise well-behaved audience, it is a tell-tale sign that something has gone very wrong in translation from page to screen.

United States Marshal Carrie Stetko (Kate Beckinsale) is nearing the end of her two-year open post at South Pole's Amundsen-Scott Base when she receives word of a dead body found on the ice. The victim, a geologist whom she knew, has clearly been murdered, the side of his head completely smashed in. Who could be the culprit in such a desolate place, though? After more bodies pile up and Carrie narrowly escapes the wrath of their shrouded killer, she, U.N. investigator Robert Pryce (Gabriel Macht), and pilot Delfy (Columbus Short) stumble upon a Soviet cargo plane buried in the snow that crash-landed in the area fifty years earlier. Onboard is a locked box, its unknown contents apparently important enough for someone to kill for them. If that weren't enough, six dark months of winter are setting in and a major storm is approaching.

Based on the four-part graphic novel by Greg Rucka, "Whiteout" was directed by Dominic Sena (2000's "Gone in Sixty Seconds") and scripted by first-timers Erich Hoeber and Jon Hoeber and veterans Chad Hayes and Carey W. Hayes (2007's "The Reaping"). Making sure that audiences don't confuse the setting for South America or Australia, early onscreen text informs us Antarctica is "the coldest, most isolated land mass on the planet." In the ten minutes surrounding this oh-so-enlightening bit of trivia, the viewer witnesses a shootout followed by a tautly filmed plane crash, an intricately designed tracking shot that introduces both the exterior and interior of the Amundsen-Scott Base, and a teasing shower scene that holds no discernible purpose other than to get Kate Beckinsale (2008's "Snow Angels") wet and partially naked. The rest of the film isn't nearly as thrilling, but it sure is laughable.

The red herrings that director Dominic Sena set up in order to keep the identity of the killer(s) a mystery is about as subtle as a "Scooby Doo" episode. Protagonist Carrie Stetko is established as being frightened of guns—she shudders just by opening a drawer and seeing the weapon—which probably isn't the best hang-up to have if you are the lone U.S. Marshal assigned to serve and protect an entire continent. Her trouble stems from a drug trafficking bust that went bad in Miami, and her narration during flashbacks to this are like comic gold. "I woke up and got this bad feeling," Carrie says in the present as the Carrie of the past awakes to see empty handcuffs hanging from a bedpost and no suspect in sight. Silly in all the wrong places and never dedicated enough with any genre or subgenre to gather momentum, the film leaves one feeling detached from the proceedings. Indeed, the only dramatically effective moment comes when trusted friend and doctor John Fury (Tom Skerritt) must amputate two of Carrie's diseased, frostbitten fingers—a scene that doesn't have much to do with what comes before or after, but at least can claim some emotional authenticity. Besides, were it not for this, there wouldn't be the priceless moment soon after where a distraught and now-handicapped Carrie struggles to button her sweater and Robert softly says as if it were a romantic come-on, "Let me help you." Scenes such as this are so clichéd and yet so earnest that the only possible reaction is to laugh at the filmmakers' archaic ignorance.

In a role that Reese Witherspoon was initially attached to before wisely dropping out, Kate Beckinsale is sympathetic as Carrie Stetko, if a little too slight in stature to fully sell herself as an action heroine. At least when she was in the "Underworld" films, her character of Selene was a leather-clad vampire. It is more difficult to look tough when you're wrapped up in coats, gloves and hats and bear a striking resemblance to police chief Marge Gunderson from 1996's "Fargo." Other performances are workmanlike, with Tom Skerritt (2003's "Tears of the Sun") showing a nice, comfortable chemistry with Carrie as base-stationed doctor John Fury; Columbus Short (2007's "Stomp the Yard") making the most out of little as nice-guy pilot Delfy, and Gabriel Macht (2008's "The Spirit") as stiff as a board as investigator Robert Pryce.

"Whiteout" is a dopey thriller, predictable yet loony. Upon being revealed, the bad guy explains his motives, to be sure, and then continues jabbering on and on without emanating an ounce of threat. Near the end, one character actually sets off in sub-zero temperatures to watch the Aurora Australis, never minding that the sky is dark and overcast and a deadly blizzard is in full force outside. The final shot, like something out of "Gone with the Wind" or "Anna and the King," is supposed to be poetic and uplifting, but it comes off as nonsensical and patently goofy. Suffice it to say, "Whiteout" is too asinine to be taken seriously. As an unintended farce, it's accidentally successful.
© 2009 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman