Sunday, September 13, 2009


The trailer to the Kate Beckinsale murder-mystery “Whiteout” (** out of ****) makes it look like a remake of the classic horror thriller “The Thing From Another World.” Something crashes in the ice near a scientific research laboratory in Antarctica. A body that apparently fell from the sky is found on the frozen tundra, and a desperate murderer with an ice ax goes on the rampage. The only person standing between this maniac and his next casualty is a female U.S. Marshal who wants to resign and go home now that her stint is almost up. She has a past that is clouded with drama. The story synopsis also appropriates the “30 Days of Night” gimmick. The outpost is about to be plunged into six months of wintry oblivion while our heroes battle the killer. Moreover, a tumultuous storm forces the scientists to evacuate the base. In other words, the filmmakers do an exemplary job of establishing the inhospitable setting which they inform during the opening credits is “the most isolated landmass on Earth.” They put the heroine and her help between an icy rock and a hard place for the climactic showdown.

Unfortunately, “Whiteout” emerges as neither “The Thing” nor “30 Days of Night.” This thoroughly humdrum homicidal hokum lacks a sense of urgency. The gratuitous Beckinsale shower sequence near the beginning as she flaunts her tidy whites should titillate males. No body doubles there. Nothing else in “Swordfish” director Dominic Sena’s frostbitten yarn, however, will titillate anybody. Sophomore scenarists Jon & Erich Hoeber along with “House of Wax” (2005) remake scribes Chad & Carey Hayes serve up nothing but formula from start to finish. Furthermore, they’ve altered the 2001 graphic novel by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber. Chiefly, they have eliminated the second heroine, a British secret service agent and replaced her with a bland United Nations investigator who may be the killer. A shortage of suspense, the expository-riddled but convoluted storytelling, and lackluster villains sabotage this shoddy saga. You might even call “Whiteout” a variation on the Sean Connery in space move “Outland” (1981) where he played a federal marshal. The plot grinds to a halt too many times. As fetching and credible as Kate Beckinsale was in the “Underworld” thrillers in her skin-tight leather suits, she looks all wrong for this comic book screen adaptation in parka and goggles.

The movie opens with a prologue set in 1957. A Soviet cargo plane—clearly a CGI replica--whips into view, like the evil space cruiser in “Star Wars,” in the first shot. The restless co-pilot wants to kill the three guys in the bay who are guarding a locked safe with a secret cargo. The co-pilot botches the job, and a gunfight erupts inside the fuselage. Everybody catches a slug in the shoot-out, and the cargo plane crashes in the in the Antarctica. Fifty years pass and the plane still hasn't been found. Meanwhile, U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko (Kate Beckinsale) is serving out the last couple of days in her two-year shift. She holed up at the outpost because of trust issues. Sena intersperses flashbacks of her partner turning rogue on her after they arrest a drug smuggler in Miami. He tries to kill her, but she blasts him. Of course, this is to assure us that she can fire a gun. Now, she is the law at the South Pole. Mostly, Carrie walks a beat and sometimes even contends with a misdemeanor. The last couple of days before everybody heads home, our heroine discovers the corpse of a geologist in the middle of nowhere in 65-below temperatures with half of its head caved in and no trace of how it got where it did. Venerable Dr. John Fury (Tom Skerritt of “M.A.S.H.”) is the head physician and means something more to Carrie than Sena and his scribes ever show us. Again, it looks like a case of role & gender reversal from “Outland.”

Carrie crosses paths with a mysterious U.N. observer Robert Pryce (Gabriel Macht of “The Spirit”) and a happy African-American pilot Delfy (Columbus Short of “Cadillac Records”) flies them all over the stunning, snow-swept terrain. At one point, Carrie and Pryce try to track down where the dead geologist had been working. Robert and Delfy watch as Carrie takes one too many steps and plunges into the snow and lands alongside a buried cargo plane. This familiar discovery plot has been used in many films, such as the 1981 opus “Treasure of the Yankee Zephyr.” They investigate and find several shot-up stiffs. They locate a smashed metal safe and find empty but ominous looking canisters. Meantime, a madman is on the rampage killing people with an ice ax. Of course, he is covered from head to foot in a parka, hood, and boots. The scriptwriters litter the action with obvious red herrings galore. The quartet of writers who wrote this forgettable thriller retread all the usual clich├ęs. The only suspense occurs in the exteriors when people have to attach themselves to a life-line cable to keep from being blown away or lost in the Antarctic blizzards. At one point, our heroine eludes the murderer, but she winds up sacrificing two fingers from frostbite.

Beckinsale gives it her best and she really looks smashing in her undies. Tom Skerritt of "M.A.S.H. plays the kindly base doctor who would not harm a fly. Macht is squandered and given little to do. The CGI work is horribly obvious, but cinematographer Chris Soos does a skillful job of using scenic Quebec and Manitoba masquerade as Antarctica. Somewhere in this predictable whodunit lurked a better movie. Typically, the term ‘whiteout’ is a synonym for poor visibility. “Whiteout” qualifies as a washout.