Icy ‘Whiteout’ packs wrong kind of chills
2.5 OUT OF 5 STARS
Starring Kate Beckinsale. Rated R. 100 mins.
Opens today in wide release
It’s too bad the new Kate Beckinsale movie isn’t called Wite-Out — you know, the liquid correction fluid that proved quite useful back in the day when typewriters were used to write movie reviews … and, for that matter, screenplays.
At least with a bottle of the white stuff handy, the filmmakers could have covered over so many of the mistakes that plague the chilly (but chill-less) Whiteout. (But even computers have a delete button, so there really is no excuse.)
Shortly after a dramatic opening sequence set 50 years ago, a sweeping present-day panorama (admittedly breathtaking) of Earth’s snowy continent fills the screen. Most people could pretty quickly deduce that this is either the North Pole or the South — and I don’t see any flying reindeer. Still, "Antarctica: The coldest and most isolated landmass on the planet" is quickly scrolled onscreen.
Really? Because based on Beckinsale’s perfect coif — despite being on the continent for two years — there clearly is a Toni & Guy.
Thus begins a series of head-scratching moments when I asked myself, "Really?" Once, almost out loud.
Whiteout’s biggest weakness, besides the often-painful dialogue, is that for a suspense thriller there isn’t much suspense. Several scenes come close, but after multiple occasions of landing in precarious, potentially frightening situations, the characters find solutions quickly and with little fanfare. At one point, Beckinsale’s U.S. marshal suffers a traumatic event, but only sheds a quick tear before moving on.
Yet despite the attempt to trick the audience into thinking this is a twisty-turny whodunit-and-for-what, it’s really just a clunky slasher flick in a white disguise. For all the stalking and ice-axe-wielding by a crazed, masked killer, Friday the 13th: Jason Takes Antarctica might have been a title that would at least fill a few seats on opening weekend. As it stands, Beckinsale’s the biggest marquee name, followed by Some Hot Guy, A Black Guy, and The Guy Who Played Shelby’s Dad in Steel Magnolias. Not much to work with.
Written by four screenwriters (a bad omen), Whiteout is based on the graphic novel by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber. (Rucka, as any good fanboy knows, is responsible for this year’s lesbian incarnation of Batwoman for DC Comics.) At least in the comic book version, cartoonish is appropriate — and artistically done. The claustrophobic undertones of the locale resonate much more deeply on paper than on celluloid, which is a brilliant accomplishment for the writers of the novel, and a sad statement for the makers of the film.
Here, alas, Whiteout is like chiseling a Lean Cuisine from within a frosted-over freezer: cold, tedious and after much effort, bland and unsatisfying.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 11, 2009.