Thriller ‘Whiteout’ fails to grip viewers

By David Orlikoff

Whiteout is a thriller set in Antarctica about U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko, directed by  Gone in 60 Seconds’ Dominic Sena.  After hearing the plot one must wonder why on Earth Kate Beckinsale was chosen to play the lead. It’s true she is the face of the Underworld action series, but those films are more akin to comic book movies where special effects and costumes are often more important than acting. Beckinsale’s other works include playing the title character in Alice Through the Looking Glass, as well as romantic leads in Serendipity with John Cusack and Tiptoes with Matthew McConaughey. While not as strange as Jennifer Lopez in Enough, a film about a woman training to beat up her abusive husband, why Beckinsale would play a U.S. marshal does beg some questions.

To the film’s credit, it answers all of them even before Stetko speaks.  After an over-the-shoulder tracking shot through the Antarctic base, we find Stetko in her room inside the U.S. colony. Still bundled up from the cold, she takes off her winter coat and, before the audience even gets a look at her face, continues to strip down to her undies. Stetko then prances to the other room and unclasps her bra—just out of frame—and bends over—in frame—to turn on the shower.

The computer-generated steam makes the foggy shower scene more comical than sexy, but the audience gets the point. Beckinsale was not hired based on her acting prowess.

The story requires no explanation. Whiteout is a by-the-book thriller which just so happens to be set in Antarctica. Nothing here is original, yet the same cliches are paraded with competence,  if not skill. While nothing about the film is exceptional, it does at least function properly. In this way, anyone with some special interest in seeing it may find their money’s worth.

Whiteout doesn’t drag, but on the contrary, could have benefited at times from taking a step back and applying a more thoughtful approach.  Periodically, the audience is subjected to superimposed lines of digital text a la Bond reading,  Antarctica or Russian Science Base Vostok, etc. Characters zip around from location to location, while flashbacks and interrogations eat up any remaining down time. Whiteout is not unlike certain Bond movies, though it is sorely lacking in gadgets and cool cars. The fast pace, even when nothing is happening, serves to distract the audience from the film’s shortcomings.

Why not just add something to the plot instead of rushing through everything? The marketing campaign already implies the existence of some metaphysical force and the location would be perfect for some found-in-the-ice creature.  The actual twists and villains are about as interesting as the back of my hand.  The only added details are the campy flashbacks relating to a cumbersome back story which hammers home the point that Stetko is a wimp.

A good 15 minutes are completely wasted after a tepid action sequence, in which Stetko suffers an injury, serves no function beyond giving a handsome U.N. agent the opportunity to help her button a sweater.

Still, the production’s largest flaw is its failure to capitalize on the natural beauty of

the     Antarctic, forgetting for a moment the film was shot in Canada. As the pilot in Whiteout points out, “I could fly here my whole life and never get over how beautiful it is.” The same cannot be said for Sena or his cinematographer.

The inevitable twist is welcome, though undeserved after a mediocre climax. By the end, more answers are given than questions asked, and none of them meaningful. Whiteout would have been an amazing student film even on a smaller budget. It shows a concrete grasp of building narrative and in most respects functions as a real film, but by commercial standards, it gives the audience no reason to watch.

chronicle@chroniclemail.com

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