Kate Beckinsale’s ‘Whiteout’ About as Thrilling as a Blank Screen

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CHICAGO – Producing more derisive snickers than gasps and more snores than thrills, Dominic Sena’s “Whiteout” is a massive waste of time, a predictable, dull, and hysterically cliched slice of junk that should be run out of theaters before month’s end.

Based on a graphic novel, “Whiteout” has been sitting on the shelf for long enough that the most confounding thing about this mystery is why anyone at Warner Brothers decided to waste their time with a theatrical run instead of just shuffling this mess off to DVD. Only a relatively interesting performance by Kate Beckinsale saves “Whiteout” from being an unmitigated disaster. And just barely.

The film opens in 1957 with a shoot-out on a Russian cargo plane over Antarctica. Whatever the Russians were carrying, it goes down into the frozen tundra at the edge of the world.

Photo credit: Warner Brothers Pictures

Flash forward to the same area of the planet five decades later as a nearby scientific research station is about to shut down for the season of darkness. Of course, a blinding storm is on its way as well. It’s a bad time for a murder mystery to pop up for U.S. Marshall Carrie Stetko (Kate Beckinsale). Stetko is a melting pot of cliches, coming off a case-gone-bad and self-punishing herself by taking the beat that no one else would volunteer to take.

The mystery of “Whiteout” starts with the discovery of a body of a geologist on the ice. Who killed him and how did he end up there? Before Stetko can even come up with a theory, she’s being chased by a masked man with an ice pick. Can she survive, solve the mystery, and escape before the storm of the century?

Of course, every character with a line of dialogue on “Whiteout” is either a hero, villain, or victim, including a dull U.N. investigator (Gabriel Macht), wise-cracking doctor (Tom Skerritt), and rebellious pilot (Columbus Short). Before you know it, Carrie has literally fallen on to the key to the mystery, one that nearly every person in the audience will have figured out before poor Ms. Stetko, assuming they haven’t fallen asleep.

Photo credit: Warner Brothers Pictures

Bafflingly written by four people, “Whiteout” is one of those films where every single line of dialogue and every single bit of character information is merely part of the overall mystery. Does every line have to push the predictable plot forward? The script for “Whiteout” is stunningly boring, resulting in one of the most predictable and uninteresting mysteries the cinema has seen in a very long time.

The awful direction by Dominic Sena certainly doesn’t help. The chase scenes are shot in such a spastic style that it’s impossible to tell what the hell is going on and when the climax of the film features characters stuck in a situation where they aren’t even supposed to be able to see a few inches in front of their faces, Sena makes the fatal mistake of using audience confusion to try and produce adrenalin. All it produces is watch-checking and daydreaming.

All that saves “Whiteout” from “worst of the year” lists is the decent performance of the continuously improving Beckinsale. After giving the best performances of her career in “Snow Angels” and “Nothing But the Truth,” it’s disappointing to see Kate slide back with “Whiteout” but she probably thought it was never going to come out anyway. She’s probably already erased it from her resume. If not, I’ll send her the whiteout.

‘Whiteout’ stars Kate Beckinsale, Gabriel Macht, Tom Skerritt, Alex O’Loughlin, and Columbus Short. It was written by Jon & Erich Hoeber and Chad & Carey Hayes and directed by Dominic Sena. It opened on September 11th, 2009. It is rated R.

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