Thursday, September 17, 2009

Whiteout (2009) - Kate Beckinsale stumbles on a VERY cold case

Early on in “Whiteout,” there is a scene in which U.S. Marshall Carrie Stetko (Kate Beckinsale) strips off all of her clothes and hops in the shower for our guilty pleasure.

Later on, Stetko has an innocuous and unnecessary conversation with a character that is given a good chunk of dialog, but is never heard from again.

Hmmm. I wonder who that guy could be.

“Whiteout,” directed by Dominic Sena and based on a graphic novel of the same name, is a dull, formulaic crime thriller that hopes against hope its Antarctic setting will distinguish it just enough from other crime thrillers to attract an audience. Here is a movie you already know the melody to, even if you don’t quite know the words.

The plot has to do with Stetko, U.S. Marshall for an Antarctican research station, investigating a corpse that is found in the middle of the ice fields. When the investigation turns up another body, Stetko enlists the help of U.N. official Robert Pryce (Gabriel Macht) and rookie pilot Delfy (Colombus Short) in order to find out what’s happening.
Pryce (Macht) and Stetko (Beckinsale) investigate what the frozen-heck is going on.

No cliché is unturned during “Whiteout's” 104 minute runtime. On the cliché wagon is a scene where another minor character refuses to tell Stetko what has happened, but instead tells her to come over to his research center: “you’ll understand everything.” I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that he is promptly murdered before he can tell her anything.

Also included on the cliché list are some very flagrant red herrings about who the villain may be near the end, a plot device centering on someone Finding Something He Wasn’t Supposed To Find, and the obligatory faux-nudity scene that so many 18–25 year olds hanker for with their violence these days.

Beckinsale, looking beautiful as ever, manages to carry herself with dignity and brings a strength to the character, and does her best with the material given. As Stetko’s friend Dr. John Fury, Tom Skerritt brings a sort of aged calm to his character, and handles the screen charismatically.
Always a talented actress, Kate Beckinsale uses her exceptional chops on an exceptionally under-written character.

Everyone else has little to do but wrestle with the dialog, which alternates between off-the-shelf peril-speak like “Nobody knows we’re down here?” and odd, lady-doth-protest-too-much lines to remind us that we’re in the arctic, like “It’ll lower your core temperature.” Also included for the audience’s benefit is a helpful explanation of exactly what a whiteout is.

The film works best when it’s covering CSI: Antarctica territory. Early scenes where Stetko and Fury examine the body to determine cause of death provided me with a twinge of intrigue.

Less effective are the thriller sections, where Beckinsale is chased (all while looking absolutely gorgeous!) through a frozen research station by a bundled-up man with an icepick. And the less said of the film's anticlimactic third act and Stetko’s forgettable backstory, the better.
The thriller sections of the movie don't really gel well.

The film certainly looks pretty, though. Filmed in Montreal, “Whiteout” includes several wide, panning shots of Canada’s barren, frozen landscapes. It’s ironic that a movie filmed in such a bright environment could house an atmosphere for a murder mystery, but “Whiteout” uses the scenery effectively on this front.

There is nothing really wrong with “Whiteout;” the actors perform competently, the soundtrack provides emotion when it is needed, and the film never makes any glaring missteps. This is a reasonably serviceable crime thriller for people who really like reasonably serviceable crime thrillers.

However, poor pacing, clichéd story, and a general lack of interesting plot developments make “Whiteout” hard for me to recommend. Give this one the cold shoulder.

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