The movie is set at the Amundsen-Scott Base at the South Pole. Kate Beckinsale plays Carrie Stetko, a U.S. Marshal who has a tragic past in Miami (that we see via far too many flashbacks) which led her to seek a post in the most remote place she could find where she could still be a marshal. Tom Skerritt plays the base’s doctor. Alex O’Loughlin plays hotshot pilot Russell, and Columbus Short plays a pilot named Delfy who befriends Carrie.
A day before the base is being shut down for winter, which at the South Pole entails six months of darkness, a dead body is discovered out in the ice, and Beckinsale determines the man was murdered. Soon, we’re embroiled in the mystery of a downed Russian plane, its mysterious cargo and the people who are willing to kill to get it.
The premise of investigating the first murder in Antarctica is fairly promising, but the film never manages to deliver. The script, adapted by four people from Greg Rucka’s well-regarded graphic novel, favors incredibly expository dialogue in which characters describe what we’re already watching. For example, we’ll see a shot of a dead body, followed by Beckinsale saying, “There’s a body.” Then comes a shot of another body, and Beckinsale says, “Here’s another one.”
Given material like that to work with, the actors, all of whom have been good in other roles, predictably seem set adrift. None of the cast members make their characters emerge as believable people. Only Skerritt’s kindly old doctor shtick makes any sort of impression at all. Beckinsale has of course been terrific in quite a few other movies, such as Snow Angels, but she’s absolutely inert here.
Of course, she’s not alone. The film was directed by Dominic Sena (Swordfish, Gone in 60 Seconds), who is a former commercial director and shows it. Sena has no problem making good-looking films. It’s in filling them with interesting stories that he stumbles. There is plenty of action in the film, but unfortunately Sena falters here as well, somehow making the scenes both dull and overly manic.
There is a chase scene in the film in which the killer is chasing Beckinsale from one building to another while both are trudging through the snow while tethered to a guide line. It struck me that the contrast between the life-and-death stakes of the chase and the necessarily slow pace it must take could have been quite interesting, but as Sena shoots it, with the camera whipping around and dramatic music blaring, the scene just becomes another frantic but failed action scene.
The film never manages to build any tension whatsoever, partially because the solution to the murder-mystery is fairly obvious from pretty early in the movie, and partially because we never come to care for any of the characters. There are plenty of action scenes, to be sure, but Sena never manages to make any of them effective (or sometimes even comprehensible). It even turns into a bad slasher movie from time to time, with a guy in a parka popping up periodically to slash people with an ice ax, but the movie never manages to find a tone that engages the audience. When the film finally comes to a climax, it’s kind of surprising, because it doesn’t really feel like anything significant has happened yet. Surely that’s not all the movie has to offer.
But alas, it is. All this build-up of invective makes the movie sound worse than it is. Just because I can’t think of anything nice to say doesn’t mean that Whiteout is terrible. It doesn’t engage you enough to make you angry. Instead it’s just thoroughly boring and mediocre, which is perhaps a worse crime.