by Mel Valentin
"Whiteout," a police procedural/mystery-thriller set in Antarctica and based on the 1998 graphic novel/mini-series written by Greg Rucka ("Detective Comics: Batwoman," "Gotham Central," "Queen & Country") and illustrated by Steve Lieber, took a long, winding road to arrive at multiplexes this weekend. It took über-producer Joel Silver and his Dark Castle production supervisor, four credited screenwriters (Jon Hoeber & Erich Hoeber and Chad Hayes & Carey Hayes), and a director with an unimpressive track record, Dominic Sena ("Swordfish," "Gone in 60 Seconds," "Kalifornia"), to get "Whiteout" made. "Whiteout’s" distributor, Warner Brothers, changed the release date three times, from spring ’08 to fall ’08 and finally to the 9/11 weekend. Post-"Whiteout" screening, it’s abundantly clear why the release was delayed multiple times. The final product is underwhelming, uninspired, and ultimately, forgettable.U.S. deputy marshal Carrie Stetko (Kate Beckinsale) is the only law enforcement officer at the McMurdo Station in Antarctica. Near the end of a two-year tour, Stetko plans on resigning from the marshal service and heading north toward warmer climes. Stetko plans on resigning as a U.S. marshal. With the winter storms that will seal off Antarctica for six months arriving ahead of schedule, scientists and support staff prepare to leave Antarctica with less than half remaining. After a pilot radios in a possible body miles away from McMurdo or any sub-station, Stetko sets out with a young inexperienced pilot (and Iraqi War veteran), Delfy (Columbus Short), and McMurdo’s retirement-ready doctor, John Fury (Tom Skerritt), to investigate. They find a frozen corpse (a.k.a. a “popsicle” in the unoriginal parlance of McMurdo’s inhabitants). Stetko assumes the man, a geologist named Weiss who worked with two other scientists at a remote sub-station, was murdered (the first in the history of Antarctica apparently).
"Not even a gratuitous Kate Beckinsale shower scene can save..."
At the McMurdo Station, Fury confirms Stetko’s assumption, but with the storms advancing, traveling anywhere involves serious risk. Stetko receives a call from one of the dead man’s research partners who insists she fly to an abandoned Russian station where he’ll tell her everything. Of course that doesn’t happen. Once at the Russian station, a masked man wielding a climbing axe attacks Stetko. She survives, but not without suffering an injury that provides Whiteout with its most disturbing moment (offscreen due to the PG-13 rating). Robert Pryce (Gabriel Macht), a UN investigator, appears at the Russian station minutes after the attack. He claims a UN mandate to participate in the investigation, primarily to control the flow of information about the murders to the outside world, but his suspicious behavior and timely arrival suggest otherwise. Stetko’s investigation eventually leads to a downed Cold War plane (courtesy of a lengthy, CG-heavy prologue) and a canister containing a mysterious substance or object inside the downed plane that kicks off the plot.
The adaptation retains most of the major and minor plot turns, including the flashbacks Rucka used to shed light on Stetko’s troubled, traumatic past (and why she took the deputy marshal gig in Antarctica), the identity of the killers, and the object the murder victims and killers wanted. In Pryce, Stetko’s co-investigator and potential romantic partner, Sena and his screenwriters added a redundant, superfluous character, used primarily as a red herring. Sena does give Stetko’s friendship with Dr. Fury and giving several supporting characters, including another pilot, Russell Haden (Alex O'Loughlin), and the McMurdo manager, Sam Murphy (Shawn Doyle), additional screen time, but it's mostly padding. The adaptation also keeps the reductionist psychology, clichéd plot mechanics, and uninspired object of desire found in Rucka and Lieber's graphic novel. To be fair, the graphic novel succeeded due to Rucka’s affinity and talent for writing within the limitations and opportunities of the comic book page and panel and Lieber’s gritty, indie-inspired art, but neither could be easily translated to film."Whiteout" offers few narrative surprises and even less suspense for moviegoers unfamiliar with Rucka and Lieber's graphic novel. "Whiteout" would have benefited from less predictable, less linear storyline (e.g., more complications, more reveals, and, more importantly, a MacGuffin we haven't seen countless times before on "Law and Order" or "CSI"). "Whiteout’s" narrative deficiencies aren’t helped by lackluster performances from a numbed cast, unconvincing CG snow in practically every scene, and Sena’s blandly unimaginative direction (with the exception of two well-choreographed set pieces involving the “whiteout” of the title). If, however, the preceding happens to be sufficient to persuade you from seeing "Whiteout," but you’re still interested in seeing a film set in Antarctica, then a little-known science-fiction/horror film released in 1982, "John Carpenter’s The Thing," might be in order.
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originally posted: 09/11/09 04:13:42