Whiteout (2009)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 9/20/09
Director: Dominic Sena
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Gabriel Macht, Tom Skerritt, Columbus Short

This critically panned stealth release came out of nowhere, and I only learned of its existence because of a poster I saw at Magic Mountain. It was a fascinating and beautifully haunting picture of Kate Beckinsale's face - and nothing else. Even if the movie turned out to be crap, the poster had already sold me on it. Score one for marketing. I knew I would hate myself for being suckered into seeing the movie, but I went anyway.

Expecting the worst, I came out of it pleasantly surprised. I know what I like, and the critics can all go screw themselves (the movie scored an embarrassing 2% rating on Rotten Tomatoes). Either that, or my quality bar is extremely low based on the junk that I usually watch.

Anyway, based on a graphic novel that I've never even heard of, "Whiteout" is a murder mystery based in Antarctica. US Federal Marshal Carrie Stetko (delicious Kate Beckinsale) is stationed at a South Pole research station and about to head back home when a dead body is found on the ice. Upon further investigation, Stetko concludes that the victim had been murdered after discovering something buried in the ice. A shifty UN investigator named Robert Pryce (Gabriel Macht) shows up to help with the case, as well as become a focal point of suspicion. Of course, if you've ever seen a murder mystery before, you know exactly who the culprit is about 20 minutes into the film, but that doesn't spoil the enjoyment of the proceedings. Sadly, the film nosedives into clichéd tackiness when the culprit is finally revealed, which causes the story to falter and fizzle out.

First of all, seeing Kate Beckinsale with a gun is ALWAYS a treat, and she's utterly delightful in the film. She handles the strong, sensitive, and stubborn aspects of her character extremely well and makes a wonderfully convincing law enforcer. And she's quite easy on the eye, I might add. Gabriel Macht is appropriately creepy, and Tom Skerritt and Columbus Short are appropriately endearing. Unlike so many action/adventure thrillers out there, "Whiteout" is a straight forward tale that's mercifully free of bullshit, and suffers only occasionally from awkward and banal dialog. The harsh and stark beauty of Antarctica is lovingly captured and the film looks gorgeous. The visual effects are superb and never betray themselves, which is always appreciated, and the music score is appropriately tense and moody. After seeing the ridiculous digital steam in "G.I. Joe" (2009), I was extremely thankful to see none of that in this film, which gave it an unexpected boost of authenticity and realism. The cold isolation of the research station reminded me of both "The Thing" (1982) and "Outland" (1981), and the setting is quite compelling. Overall, I found the film to be an innocuous and pleasantly entertaining outing, which is something that I wish more films would strive for.