There is nothing worse than watching a movie and spending most of it thinking of all the different ways it could be better. Unfortunately, Whiteout is one such film. There are a bunch of interesting elements in the storyline, but rather than focus on one and make something truly enjoyable, the myriad producers and screenwriters decided to put in ALL of them, resulting in one of the most weightless films I can recall.
For example, the movie takes place in Antarctica, in the days leading up to a point of the year when it is going to be dark (and thus even less inhabitable) for six months. But rather than use this in any meaningful way, the “tension” relies on whether or not our main characters will solve the crime at hand before the plane has to leave. First of all – we know goddamn well that they won’t get on that plane, so this should have been an event for the end of the first act, not the second. Secondly – the crime itself (the theft/coverup of some unknown Russian cargo) isn’t nearly compelling enough for anyone to even CARE if they solve the crime or not, because it doesn’t seem like any of our characters are in any danger. As a result, we have little investment in what passes for a ticking countdown story (as opposed to say, Die Hard 2’s “your wife’s plane has 67 minutes left before it runs out of fuel” stuff).
There’s also some half-baked backstory about Beckinsale’s past. It seems back when she was working in Miami (a setting that probably only exists to get in a few scenes of Kate wearing more revealing clothing instead of a heavy parka), her partner sold her out. As a result, not only does she not trust people, she doesn’t trust her own judgment. Hence why she took this easy post, because she doubts her skills as a marshal. And this would be fine, but they don’t make her arc incredibly compelling in any way. Not only does it hinge on whether or not she solves a dull case, but her new “partner” (Gabriel Macht) never comes off as a legitimate suspect. Like everything else in the movie, he’s just sort of there, and most people will figure out the bad guy’s identity after twenty minutes or so anyway (before Macht even appears).
And the MUSIC! I dunno if director Dominic Sena is insane, or composer John Frizzell had dirt on someone, but whatever the reason, I have never seen such liberal over-use of the film’s score. It’s bad enough that it sounds exactly like the Bourne films’ score by John Powell, but it plays over nearly every single scene. Even otherwise quiet dialogue scenes are counter-productively drowned out by the incessant “Dun dun DUN DUN DUN DUN dun dun” instrumental score. None of it matches to what is happening on the screen, and it’s a constant distraction. Of course, it may help to fully drown out some of the clunky “investigative” dialogue, such as when the movie stops cold (heh, pun just realized) to have Beckinsale and Macht figure out which blood splatter belongs to which corpse.
The fact that they are trying to sell this to horror fans is downright laughable (though not as laughable as the opening on-screen title that tells us that Antarctica is the “coldest place on Earth”. No shit.). There’s one brief segement that plays like something out of a slasher movie, but the “slasher” is caught and anti-climactically within about 10 minutes. The main villain doesn’t want to hurt anyone, and they don’t even really play up the psychological aspects of being isolated and/or the possibility of living in complete darkness for half a year. Like the plot elements, it seems they just tossed in some horror stuff in order to make the movie as “well-rounded” as possible, since it also plays like a mystery, a procedural (I actually made the awful joke that the movie should be called “Really Cold Case”), a thriller, and even an action movie during the (admittedly cool) shootout/plane crash sequence that opens the film. So it’s a movie that is everything and nothing – which is probably the most interesting thing about it.
Read BC’s “uncut” (and more spoiler-y) review at Horror Movie A Day!