Whiteout (2009)

(In theatres, September 2009) Thrillers are often as much about setting than about plot, and so the best thing about Whiteout is how it really tries to take advantage of its Antarctic environment.  It’s -50c outside on a white plain of ice, and the film occasionally does its best to give us all the claustrophobic, glacial, howling implications of that fact.  (The rest of the time; not so much, as any Canadian will tell you: no dripping shoes, no chapped lips, no frost-burn on the cheeks)  Unfortunately, there isn’t much more than that in store in this long-delayed B-grade thriller: The murder mystery is a bit of a bust, and the plot holes appear faster than the twists and turns.  Culprits are obvious early on (otherwise, why spend so much time featuring bit players?) and the way to the ending is littered with curious narrative choices: Why drag on the film for another 5-10 minutes after the action climax?  Why rely so heavily on coincidences, egregious oversights, dumb mistakes (such as, oh, not shooting someone coming at you with an axe?) and a generally linear plot?  Everything even remotely interesting is usually told twice (including flashbacks) and the intriguing fog of the first few minutes is so thoroughly dispersed that it has us wishing for more mystery.  (Can you believe four people wrote this?)  Even the execution feels off: it all leads up to a snowy fight in which it’s tough enough to know who’s who –let alone what’s happening.  Pretty Kate Beckinsale may have sold many/most of Whiteout’s tickets, but she’s miscast and overly made-up: an older, more world-weary heroine would have been far more believable. On the other hand, she’s not making any better impression than the film’s other actors.  As for director Dominic Sena, he’s done both better and more ludicrous in his career (Swordfish, anyone?) and either qualities would have been welcome here: he should consider going back to action movies.  As it is, Whiteout is just frozen in place, offering only a few meagre reasons to see it: people used to shoveling snow off their driveways every winter will have more thrills doing so.

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