Whiteout as a movie title might signify the whiter-than-white panties Kate Beckinsale treats us to about five minutes into her new thriller. But it doesn't.
It suggests her English rose complexion and the milky white skin she bares in the Obligatory Kate Beckinsale Shower Scene, a staple of Kate's post-Underworld action films. But not really.
What "whiteout" refers to, in this indifferent thriller based on a grittier comic book, is that dark, wind-whipped blizzard that can blind you in the world's snowiest places. "An unholy set of weather conditions converge and the world falls away," as Doc (Tom Skerritt), the South Pole vet, tells his newbies during their outdoor hypothermia lecture.
It's a murder mystery set in that scattering of camps, ice stations and bases run by various nations doing climate-change research, geology or simple post-Cold War snooping in the Antarctic. We see a Soviet transport plane crash here in the 1950s in an opening scene. Fifty years later, scientists are turning up dead. Coincidence?
Of course this comes just as the outer bases are about to close down for the long Antarctic night. Naturally, there's a blizzard coming, making any flight the potential "last plane out." And it doesn't need to be said that these are U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko's last hours on the job. Years of service away from the violence of the "real" world -- she has flashbacks about a case that went south on her -- and now she has to figure out who's killing whom, and over what. Even those there to help -- the friendly pilot Delphi (Columbus Short) and the under-foot U.N. security specialist (Gabriel Macht) -- are suspects.
Director Dominic Sena (Swordfish) and his production designers and digital-image crew cook up polar bases with a crowded, subway-corridor ambience -- hustle and parties and street musicians and lots of drinking games. He stages some grim life-or-death chases and fights along the lifelines, the ropes that link the outdoor buildings, the only things that prevent you from blowing away in a blizzard.
What he doesn't do is generate much excitement or mystery. The Greg Rucka/Steve Lieber comic was a bit thin -- but it had suggestions of international intrigue, a possibly incompetent cop struggling with a runaway mass-murder case, and hints of bisexuality (fanboys and their girl-on-girl fetishes). All are dumped for "the Hollywood version."
Beckinsale doesn't put a lot of effort into looking weathered, wearied and wary in this role. Her character reconstructs crime scenes with unerring skill, except when the plot demands that she be too thick to figure out the obvious. The film feels trimmed, thanks to scenes and settings that jump about. Macht ( The Spirit) makes no impression.
Only Skerritt (Alien, M*A*S*H), who also seems a bit too groomed to have spent years on the Pole, suggests the burden this unique setting might dump on a person. When he gives his little hypothermia speech -- "Nature not did intend for you to survive out here" -- the movie gains the credibility that too many scenes lack. For all its frozen blood, assaults with ice axes and killer weather, Whiteout turns out to be only a pale imitation of the thriller it might have been.
WhiteoutTwo of five starsCast: Kate Beckinsale, Tom Skerritt, Gabriel Macht, Columbus ShortDirector: Dominic SenaRunning time: 1 hour 37 minutesIndustry rating: R for violence, grisly images, brief strong language and some nudity.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times