So, shootout...sports bra...where was I? Oh, yeah. Not a whole helluva lot happens for another hour and a half, and then the image fades to black. Roll credits. The end.
Okay, okay. I guess something happens in between. It's just that none of it's particularly interesting, and that's what happens when you hand a couple of pretty much universally loved comic book miniseries over to the guy who directed Swordfish and Gone in 60 Seconds. Anyway, Kate Beckinsale stars as Carrie Stetko, a U.S. Marshall stationed in an Antarctic research facility. It's a thankless, pointless gig, and if Carrie weren't so tormented by some dark event in her past we'll eventually get to see in flashback, she'd probably be thrilled to dart out of this frostbitten hell-hole when the last plane takes off in two days. So, after months and months of entering blank entries in her daily reports, Carrie stumbles onto the first murder in the history of the continent. It sounds like some kind of epochal event, but her investigation sends her screaming head-on into Murder #2, and Carrie nearly lands the number three spot herself. Some masked maniac is hacking people apart with a pick axe, and when it happens in a flick that opens with Russkies gunning each other down and their airplane plowing into twenty feet of ice, the smart money says that'll probably divebomb into the plot again at some point too.
Nothing here really works. The screenplay overexplains the holy hell out of everything, the onslaught of flashbacks include peeks back at things that happened all of two minutes ago, and anyone who's ever sat through a thriller before will generally be at least a half hour ahead of Whiteout at all times. Its dialogue can really creak along (like one exchange where they say "Vostok" something like seven times in the space of twenty seconds), and it doesn't help so much that it's delivered by such a flat and wooden ensemble. Gabriel Macht might have it the worst, not content to ravage just one widely loved comic, and Kate Beckinsale's really better off not talking at all. Nice to look at...? Sure, but she's a bland, ineffective, unengaging lead. I
There's no hook at all. Thrill to scenes like Beckinsale slo-o-o-o-o-owly typing several dates in front of a computer terminal, and to show her findings to the one person in the base she trusts, she slo-o-o-o-o-owly retypes the exact same thing again. A lot of the action is increasingly indistinguishable people covered from head to toe trying to connect and disconnect hooks from a safety line. The pace is pretty glacial, and when I thought I'd finally hit the boiling point of the movie, it turned out to be a fake climax and that there were thirtysomething minutes still on the clock. Ack. Not only is the Pick Axe Killer not much of a credible threat, but the movie fails to eke much menace out of the Antarctic. The biting cold was a character in its own right in John Carpenter's remake of The Thing, and even though Whiteout is clearly taking a stab at the same, that angle is as limp and lifeless as everything else in the flick. As integral to the plot as it is, I just don't get that same sense of claustrophobia and looming danger that I did with The Thing. I was honestly kind of surprised to see in the extras that Whiteout was mostly shot on location -- with Canada subbing for the Antarctic, natch -- since ice and snow looks like it's been clumsily chroma keyed behind the cast as if this were The Daily Show or something. The movie looks low-rent all around, and the flashbacks to a drug bust gone bad in Miami -- especially a body tumbling out a window and toward the camera -- are howlingly inept.
There were literally only two moments where I stopped and thought, "oh, that's pretty cool": the black of the killer's parka gradually breaking through a blanket of white and seeing that Carrie has a Them! DVD on her dresser. Otherwise, Whiteout doesn't manage to hammer out any intrigue, any urgency, any...anything. I've suffered through worse thrillers, sure, and Whiteout is more aggressively routine than out-and-out bad. Still, why bother? The trade paperback collections of the comics are half the price and by all accounts twenty or thirty times better, so why bother with this mediocre, uninspired hackjob? Skip It.
It's not exactly the most filmic disc I've popped in my player recently; the texture is so clean and smooth that I thought for a while there that Whiteout had to have been shot digitally. Strangely enough, this is one of the few discs that looks better in the screenshots scattered around this review than it does splashed across my 60" Kuro. A few tighter shots are almost startlingly well-defined and overflowing with detail, but much of the rest settles for good but routine.
Whiteout is letterboxed to preserve its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1, and its VC-1 encode fits on a single-layer Blu-ray disc with plenty of room to spare.
The 16-bit Dolby TrueHD soundtrack starts off impressively enough: the subwoofer reinforcing cracks of gunfire, slugs and spent shells zipping around the entire soundscape, the chaos of a cabin breach, a massive plane tumbling into the ice below...even a tracking shot following Kate Beckinsale as Carrie makes her way through the camp is bolstered by a really strong sense of directionality. The sound design kind of peters out from there, though. Things sporadically fly around, sure, and there are some meaty thuds as a body or two tumble from dizzying heights. Otherwise, it's cleanly-rendered dialogue front and center, a little stereo separation across the mains, and lots and lots and lots of wind howling from the surrounds. Even the score sounds awfully timid in the mix. Pretty routine once the counter ticks past the ten minute mark.
Whiteout also serves up Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs in French and Spanish. It's the usual stack of subtitles this time around too: English (SDH), French, and Spanish.
The Final Word
For a flick that Joel Silver touts as "the coldest thriller ever made!", Whiteout is kinda room temperature. It's not unwatchable or anything, but Whiteout botches the exceptional atmosphere from the original comics, it's saddled with a wooden cast, and what little is supposed to pass for intrigue and action never manage to get the blood pumping. C'mon, the Whiteout trades are better and half the sticker price anyway, so Skip It.