An impending storm, dark skies, miles and miles of desolate surface and ferociously windy cold…that is Antarctica, the featured (and only) attraction in Dominic Sena’s Whiteout.
Kate Beckinsale plays U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko, who is on assignment in Antarctica. It’s an historic event she has on her hands. The first murder ever has occurred on the continent, a place without an official government or ruling body of lawmakers. Making matters worse, Stetko has three days to investigate and get out before an engulfing six months of blizzard darkness makes it impossible to travel to or fro. A saliently talented Tom Skerritt plays Dr. John Fury, a levelheaded doctor and Stetko's close friend.
Sena has seen, well...better...days (Swordfish, 2001, Gone in Sixty Seconds, 2000) as Whiteout boils down to being about little more than a pick-axing madman who is killing people at the South Pole (of all places, yes, the South Pole!) There’s a complex (and sometimes muddled) story behind why that is happening, but the thing of interest is that the culprit must be in amazing physical condition to run around in -60 and fast dropping temps with 200+ mile an hour winds. And we're talking "off the charts" determination levels (don't even get me started!)
The film’s admirable attention to detail does stand out. The grizzly and unfortunate affects of exposure to extreme cold, saddled with an always-eager presentation of life-like gore, might cause some gasps. Such are revelations with the feel of some of the darker mirror-glancing moments life has to offer. The film’s dignity and confidence do demand at least a head-tilting smirk of respect, although Whiteout will surely be “whited out” as far as acting resumes are concerned.
Whiteout has, shall we say, little going for it. It is…wait for it…v e r y…s l o w, menacingly slow, death by old age slow. Barely a moment passes when that observation is not hair-strokingly apparent. The camera work is execrable, especially when any sort of movement is happening. I’ve never had a seizure, but it’s hard to imagine having one leaving me feeling more “out of it” after a series of action sequences. The music, along with the timing and build-up to a sudden revelation or a surprise…none of it is done to the level of a major release production.
The story has some interesting similarities to the real life case of Dr. Jerri Nielsen. Stranded in Antarctica, her case made 20/20 Primetime back in 2001 as she had breast cancer and fought to get back to civilization for treatment as described in her book Dr. Jerri Nielsen: Cheating Death in Antarctica. Now there's an Antarctica story for you! It has the added bonus of being a heart-tugging presentation. This does not.
Whiteout takes its sweet time getting to the conclusion, and then it fizzles out. The useless flashbacks become repetitive and gnat-in-your-face annoying. Yes, it’s a wanting movie no matter how you slice it, arguably one of the worst among the big budget-ers. By critic consensus, Rotten Tomatoes has it listed at number 100 in the Worst of the Worst movies of all time, but every teacher at some point grades on a curve. Well, here’s my curve—I never wanted to like a bad film so much!
The scenery was...close to literally...out of this world. You get to see what it's like on the coldest and most isolated region of our planet. Blowing snow in a white wall so thick that you can barely see your hand in front of your face, luscious scenery, gorgeous sunsets that rival the looks of any place on this mud ball…I say that’s worth a bump.
Grade: D- (1 star)
Director: Dominic Sena
Summary: U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko tracks a killer in Antarctica, as the sun is about to set for six months.
Starring: Kate Beckinsale “Carrie Stetko,” Gabriel Macht “Robert Pryce,” Tom Skerritt “Dr. John Fury,” Columbus Short “Delfy,” Alex O'Loughlin “Russell Haden,” Shawn Doyle “Sam Murphy,” Joel S. Keller “Jack (as Joel Keller)”
Genre: Horror / Thriller