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Whiteout: Dumbing Us Down

September 18, 2009

It is 1957.  A soviet cargo plane heads toward the North Pole.  The pilots decide to enact their plan early.  Moving toward the back of the plane, the co-pilot attempts to kill the human cargo.  A gun fight erupts, killing everyone on board and sending the plane plummeting to the icy surface.  Before the main titles appear, we see a locked wooden box still in tact.

Cut to present day Antarctica.  Dominic Sena’s Whiteout, based on a graphic novel by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber, presents Kate Beckinsdale (Underworld) as U.S. Marshall Carrie Stetko.  Following her off the plane, into the station, and then into her living quarters, we get to watch her remove her heavy winter gear piece by piece, run her hands through her hair, remove her sports bra, and turn towards the shower.  As she bends over to turn on the steaming hot water, Sena begs us to stay.  By granting us a close up of Ms. Beckinsdale’s beautiful backside, he must be apologizing for keeping her covered in heavy coats for the rest of the movie.

Soon a body is discovered stuck to the ice in an even more desolate region of the arctic.  Although Stetko and Dr. John Fury (Tom Skerrit; Alien, The Dead Zone) are both scheduled to return to the states for good, they embark on an investigation that will eventually lead them to the downed Soviet plane from 50 years earlier.  Ratcheting up the tension is an approaching storm, “an unholy set of weather conditions,” that will turn the world white. The speed at which the storm approaches has forced the pilots to increase the number of runs out of the North Pole, and any delay in their schedule will leave people stranded in the darkness of the region for the next six months.

Sena, who showed so much promise with his first film Kalifornia, has since gone on to direct the big budget studio pictures Gone in 60 Seconds and Swordfish.  And although Whiteout seems to be a return to the darker genre, it plays more like a dumbed-down big budget action movie.  Dropping clues, pointing out the clues, explaining the clues, and then revisiting the clues, Whiteout fails to respect its audience.

Called to Vostok by John Mooney during an ominous phone call, Stetko heads off alone.  With only a gun and a pilot, she is immediately threatened by a knife wielding killer. Then, upon the discovery of the downed cargo plane, Stetko manages to piece together the cause of the crash.  Unfortunately, Sena has already shown us the entire event, making Stetko’s “brilliant” police work repetitive and dull.  And as we mercifully approach the end of the story, Skerrit’s character says, “How ironic that it is our last days here and both our jobs get so complicated.”  Really?  Did anyone miss the irony of this?

As the body count piles up, the rest of the station crew seem oddly indifferent.  Kate Beckinsdale, covered from head to toe in heavy winter clothing, is charged with carrying every scene in the movie, but this proves too daunting a task and exposes too many of her weaknesses.  It would seem that the catatonia delivered by the rest of the cast must have been a conscious effort on the part of the director to hide his lead’s deficiencies.

The emotional impact of Whiteout hinges mostly on Stetko’s past failures as a U.S. Marshall in the states.  Delivered via flashback, Sena struggles to extract as much as he can from these scenes, but every revelation is only a tired retread of an earlier scene.

During what should have been Whiteout’s most intense moment, Stetko falls through a hole in the ice.   A trail of blood lines the icy walls of the cave; perhaps this is a clue.  But Sena must have thought that his audience would not see it, so Stetko points it out. “Did you see that trail of blood behind you?” she says to Price, a UN investigator.  “Yes, I saw it,” he says.

Yes, we all saw it.  And as the storm approaches and the winds pick up, the screen is filled with white.  The final battle is hidden behind a wall of snow; and like those old black and white war movies I used to watch with my dad, I had no idea who was in danger or why I should care.  And then I realized that the title of Whiteout must be a pun, for anyone with sense would have used a case of the stuff in polishing this script.

One Comment leave one →
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