A whiteout by definition is an atmospheric condition in which blizzards or low clouds make it very difficult to see. Doc (Tom Skerritt), the South Pole MD, describes it as when “an unholy set of weather conditions converge and the world falls away.” While Whiteout is based on a darker, grittier graphic novel by Greg Rucka, I have to wonder if the four screenwriters (that’s right, 4! Jon & Erich Hoeber and Chad & Carey Hayes) were caught in their own personal whiteout as they passed this screenplay between them like a puck in a hockey pick-up game.
In the first 5 minutes we not only see a Soviet cargo plane crash into the arctic in 1957, but a close up of Kate Beckinsale’s undies and a shower scene. Beckinsale plays US Marshal Carrie Stetko, who upholds the law in Antarctica. It’s been 50 years since the crash that time forgot, and now geologists in an old Russian camp are turning up dead. There’s only 2 days until the whole place goes on lock-down for the 6 month winter, and there’s a huge storm on it’s way to boot.
Carrie pushes to find the truth as time is running out, and suddenly everyone is a suspect; from her pilot Delfy (Columbus Short) to the U.N. security specialist (Gabriel Macht). We come along as our heroine gets trapped under 20 feet of snow, is chased by an icepick wielding murderer, has flashbacks of a case that went south on her, and loses a couple of fingers. Add these elements to the approaching storm, and you get a fairly run of the mill “who dunnit” flick.
Though the environment is new to the genre, it’s still a classic (but poorly executed) “locked-room” mystery, using the arctic as the “room”. Director Dominic Sena and his crew for some reason imagined up a sort of college dorm atmosphere in the camp; parties, streaking, garage bands, and lots of drinking games. Thankfully, he produces some entertaining chases and fights along the ‘lifelines’ — the ropes that link the outdoor buildings, and the only things that prevent you from being blown away or lost in a whiteout. He also does a good job establishing the unforgiving climate by using some well placed CGI for effect (like an un-gloved hand sticking to a frozen door handle, or hot coffee freezing instantly when hitting the ground). But much like a colonist in this icy wasteland, the script never strays far from the safe path.
The cast doesn’t have much to do except throw out little tidbits about how nature never intended for them to be there. Beckinsale did the best that the script would allow, but her character sure didn’t look quite as weathered as I would expect an US Marshal (who has lived there for 2 years) to look. In fact, all of the characters were looking rather spry. Beckinsale’s character also has an uncanny ability to piece together crime scenes, except for when the plot requires her to be oblivious to the obvious. Macht (The Spirit) is pretty unremarkable through out, but Skerritt does a good job falling into a fairly comfortable role for him as a father figure/mentor.
Being a rather standard thriller, Whiteout will provide red herrings, a few-heart racing moments, and a twist ending. Though it proved to be a good time, it just wasn’t enough to forgive all the holes in the plot. It won’t take you long to figure out “who dunnit”, even though the motives don’t make sense…or matter.
I give Whiteout 2.5 “containers of jelly beans” out of 5