The first time we see Kate Beckinsale as U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko in “Whiteout,” she has just come in from the brutal Antarctica cold and has entered her quarters.
She peels off layer after layer after layer of clothing, until she’s down to bra and panties, poking her butt in the camera’s direction as she turns on the shower. (Even though “Whiteout” is rated R, she takes a PG shower.)
Someone enters her quarters and says hello. “I’m in the shower!” says Carrie.
Yes. We knew that.
There is absolutely no point to this scene other than to show Ms. Beckinsale’s tiny and flawless figure in bra and panties and then naked, albeit through the steamed-up shower walls. It’s kinda ridiculous. So is much of “Whiteout,” a violent, formulaic thriller that is ultimately no less predictable or interesting simply because it is set in the coldest and most isolated place on Earth.
As veteran movie-goers know, when a cop of any kind is just days away from the long-awaited retirement or the promotion to the cushy desk job or the tropical climate--well, that’s when all hell breaks loose and you’re plunged into the biggest case of your career. (See Morgan Freeman in “7,” Robert Duvall in “Colors,” et al.) Carrie has spent two uneventful years as the lone cop at the Amundsen-Scott Research Station, but in three days, the station will power down for the long winter, and she’ll be leaving for good. She’s turning in her badge, don’t you know.
That’s when a body turns up on the open ice, far from any research station. It’s Antarctica’s first homicide, but it won’t be the last.
So far we have some pretty interesting ingredients for a different kind of thriller. There’s the opening sequence, set 50 years earlier, in which all hell breaks loose on a Russian plane. What’s up with that? There’s that gruesome corpse found stuck to the ice. There’s somebody stomping around Antarctica with an ax, chopping up geologists and trying to kill Carrie. And there’s constant talk of the killer storm on its way. Maybe this will all play out in smart and surprising fashion.
Or maybe not.
Despite the promising source material—a graphic novel written by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber--some impressive visuals (with Manitoba filling in for the South Pole) and the earnest performances from the talented cast, “Whiteout” often plays like a slasher movie in a parka. When it’s not a slasher movie, it feels like a hundred other cop mysteries in which we know one of the core characters probably isn’t such a good guy after all. Sooner or later we’re going to get that Big Reveal, where the true criminal mastermind gives a long speech explaining the motives for his evil deeds.
Other clichés abound. The killer has that omniscient movie-killer ability to magically appear in places where he couldn’t have possibly known his next victim would be. We keep getting flashbacks to a deadly incident in Miami that was the impetus for Carrie’s escape to this most isolated post. At one point Carrie gingerly approaches a figure that might be sleeping—but we know he’s not sleeping. When a handsome special agent (Gabriel Macht) from the United Nations suddenly appears to offer help, we can’t help but wonder about his true motives.
There’s also some very weird stuff, as when Carrie shares a tender exchange with her best friend and father figure, Doc--as Doc prepares to amputate her frostbitten fingers, I kid you not. (Doc is played by Tom Skerritt, who now looks like Kris Kristofferson’s twin brother.)
As for the big whiteout, when the storm finally hits, it just makes it really difficult to see who’s doing what as a number of key characters battle it out in the middle of the deadly storm. At one point as Carrie and company are flailing about on the ice, punching and kicking and trying to kill one another, the action was more reminiscent of a Three Stooges film than a nail-biting thriller.
Director Dominic Sena (“Gone in 60 Seconds,” “Swordfish”) knows how to film elaborately choreographed action sequences, but the screenplay-by-committee is bereft of originality, lacking in comic relief. You want to see a good movie starring Kate Beckinsale in a fully formed performance? Rent out last year’s political spellbinder “Nothing but the Truth,” which was seen by no one but deserves a second chance.