There are three great mysteries at the core of Dominic Sena's new Antarctica thriller Whiteout. The first revolves around a 50-year-old Russian cargo plane and the murder of the modern geological crew that discovers it. The second is what, exactly, is contained in those missing metal tubes. And lastly, how in the hell does Kate Beckinsale wind up in one subpar stinker after another? Instead of trying to discover whose killing the various residents of a remote South Pole research station, she should be firing her agent, pronto. This is yet another in a long line of career missteps for an actress who deserves far better. Article continues below
After a drug deal in Miami goes sour, Beckinsale's Federal Marshall Carrie Stetko asks for reassignment. She ends up at the bottom of the world, keeping tabs on the various crimes and misdemeanors that transpire there. She is aided in her work by pilot pal Delfy (Columbus Short) and base medico Dr. John Fury (Tom Skerritt). When a dead body turns up in a remote location of the continent, Stetko is concerned. Murder just doesn't happen amid the frozen climes of the region.
When the investigation turns up a buried airplane and some mysterious missing cargo, the UN gets involved. It sends agent Robert Pryce (Gabriel Macht) to help Stetko locate the freight and figure out who is responsible for the rising body count. Time is running out, however, because the Antarctic winter starts in three days. If they can't crack the case by then, Stetko and Pryce will be stuck in six months of endless darkness.
Whiteout is red herrings on ice. It's a whodunit that rapidly turns into a "who cares." Sold as something incredibly dark and sinister, it is actually nothing more than CSI with frostbite. It wastes the talents of everyone onscreen and confirms why it's taken director Dominic Sena eight years to follow-up the hackneyed Hugh Jackman/John Travolta thriller Swordfish (the answer -- he's a failure at action and suspense). Having sat on the shelf since 2007, what we get is yet another example of a post-summer Hollywood dump -- figuratively and literally.
That it took four screenwriters to come up with this muddled collection of contrivances (based on a popular graphic novel series) is shocking. There are more flashbacks here than in a room full of '60s acid casualties, and Sena handles each and every one of them with the subtlety of a snowplow. One moment, Beckinsale's whisper-thin marshal is making inroads into the many murders. The next, she's in a scene straight out of the Lifetime Network version of Scarface. Even worse, the glimpses into Stetko's past add little to our understanding of her supposedly sensitive psychological state. Instead, they pad out an already overlong 100-minute exercise in backdrop over believability.
Nothing here has any heft or dramatic energy. The storytelling is flat and the pacing is practically glacial. Even the wintry setting looks incredibly fake, CG blizzards obliterating visibility with their half-hearted hurricane-like fury. And since almost all the "action" takes place within this hard-to-decipher conceit, we're often left wondering who's chasing who... not that the mystery matters. You'll finger the guilty parties almost immediately.
If you're looking for an intense nail-biter set in the intense cold of Antarctica, stick with John Carpenter's classic splatterpiece The Thing. It understands the sense of isolation and danger inherent in the locale, something that Sena's slop job all but avoids. Dull and draining, Whiteout should have been offered under one of these preferable alternate titles -- Washout, or even better, Wornout.