by Eric D. Snider
Released: September 11, 2009
There are not a lot of murders committed in Antarctica, what with most of the population consisting of penguins, so it makes sense that when a researcher is found dead on the ice miles from his base, there's going to be a major investigation. What's surprising about "Whiteout," where this is the scenario, is how uninteresting the process turns out to be.
Based on a graphic novel by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber, "Whiteout" has been directed by Dominic Sena ("Swordfish," "Gone in 60 Seconds") in a manner that suggests he went out of his way to avoid all possible suspense. There is a point where a masked killer has been apprehended, and we're dying to know who it is. Rather than show the unmasking, though, Sena cuts immediately to a scene in an interrogation room, where the villain is already handcuffed to a chair. "Oh, by the way," the movie seems to say. "It was so-and-so." Frequently the characters will get into a predicament that seems dire, only to escape without incident a few minutes later, no real tension having ever been built. The film's been sitting on the shelf for 2 1/2 years; maybe it went bad?
The story concerns an attractive U.S. marshal named Carrie Stetko (Kate Beckinsale), whose first order of business upon arriving at the research station is to strip down and take a shower. Most films hold that card for later, but "Whiteout" plays it right away. Stetko has regular flashbacks to an unpleasant incident back in Miami that has led her to seek reassignment here, away from the vast majority of the world's human population. I don't know what need there is for U.S. marshals in Antarctica, but I'm sure the Justice Department knows what it's doing.
Stetko is friends with the research facility's doctor, always just called Doc (Tom Skerritt), having spent some long winter months in his company here before. The boss man, Murphy (Shawn Doyle), is also a friend. There's a pilot, Delfy (Columbus Short), and a leering Australian (Alex O'Loughlin), and plenty of unnamed personnel who do whatever it is people do at Antarctic outposts. Everyone seems normal enough. Could one of them be ... A MURDERER??
The body found out on the ice is that of a scientist at another station. He had two colleagues working with him, at least one of whom could be the culprit. And it all connects somehow to a Russian cargo plane, seen in the film's prologue, that crashed in the ice 50 years ago. And all of this is of interest to the United Nations, for some reason, which quickly sends a representative named Pryce (Gabriel Macht) to help (or possibly hinder) Stetko's investigation.
Despite this promising scenario -- murder in the middle of nowhere, an extremely limited number of potential suspects -- "Whiteout" never rises above basic mediocrity. The dialogue, attributed to a total of four writers, is often maddeningly obvious (Stetko has a penchant for declaring exactly what she's doing while she's doing it, in case we've closed our eyes), and never any better than you'd get from the average episode of a mid-level TV crime drama. The story is strictly by-the-numbers potboiler stuff, the revelations predictable. I've just been informed via Twitter that several critics are already calling it "C.S.I.: Antarctica," so I will refrain. But you get the idea.
Rated R, a few F-bombs, some grisly images, moderate violence
1 hr., 41 min.
Copyright © Eric D. Snider.
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