"Whiteout" comes from a graphic novel by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber, about a U.S. Marshal stationed in Antarctica, which we're told straight off is "the most isolated landmass on Earth." Oh, that Antarctica. A corpse is found on the ice, but it's not just another case of severe frostbite: It's murder, and the murderer (whom we see in action soon enough, with a pickax) has a motive that relates in some way (no spoilers here) to the Cold War-era prologue, in which we see an ill-fated planeful of Soviets guarding a mysterious crate containing ... what?
Here's another question: You know what blinding snow and 65-below temperatures do to action sequences? The same thing that underwater scenes do. They slow everything waaaaay down, which means the director must find a way to plausibly have people trying to kill each other, excitingly, without violating the physical/spatial conditions they're in. At the big action climax of "Whiteout," you have various parties going at each other while they're attached to safety ropes, and they're inching along, and the (digital, mostly, I think) snow is blowing and the whiteout's in full play, and the thing about whiteouts is pretty simple, really: lousy visibility. I couldn't really make out what was going on in this scene. At all.
Seeing everyone bundled up in parkas and ski masks throughout this picture explains why director Dominic Sena -- who made "Swordfish," and therefore knows the value of gratuitous skin -- has Kate Beckinsale, per the script, sullenly undress down to her skivvies for a shower. There's a fabulous shot of Beckinsale bending waaaaay over, rump to the camera (at which point you can almost hear the camera operator mutter "Yeah! Yeah!" Beavis-style), and it's held just long enough so the viewer can speculate on the nature of the underwear itself, which does not look like the sort of underwear a U.S. Marshal would wear. In Antarctica.
The film moves like frozen molasses, letting the audience get out ahead of the narrative developments at every turn. Beckinsale strives for hard-bitten and tough, but it comes off as petulance, as if, like, I'm just trying to leave Antarctica, OK? And I have to solve these crimes?! Ugh. Whatever.
Tom Skerritt's pretty good as the local doc. So is Columbus Short as one of the marshal's colleagues. All in all, though, "Whiteout" is plodding enough to make you wish for the interpolation of a vampire or two, from "30 Days of Night."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times