After an auspicious start in films like Much Ado About Nothing and The Last Days of Disco, British actress Kate Beckinsale has struggled to be taken seriously. She's talented and beautiful, but her choices have been questionable. I submit her barely-seen 2009 thriller Whiteout as Exhibit A....
Stars: Kate Beckinsale, Gabriel Machet, Alex O'Loughlin, Tom Skerritt and Columbus Short.
Writers: Chad Hayes, Carey W Hayes, Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber; based upon the graphic novel by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber.
Director: Dominic Sena.
Gallons of the titular correction fluid may have helped Dominic Sena’s abysmal thriller if it had been applied at just about any juncture during the graphic novel-to-feature film script stage. Despite the occasional upside (some cool special effects – no pun intended – and the always reliable Tom Skerritt), Whiteout is an icky, snowbound murder-mystery of absolutely no consequence at all.
The only people who get off lightly are the fanboys who will watch for their latest, sweaty glimpse of English beauty Kate Beckinsale. The star of Underworld and, more recently, the much-maligned Total Recall reboot, gives her fans a lingering glimpse of her pristine tighty-whiteys, mooning the camera during the opening credits; if that’s all you’re after, you’re free to go at the 8 minute mark.
Kate's undie-flash aside, the most thrilling scene in the film is a pre-credit flashback that puts the viewer in the midst of a shoot-out on board a huge Russian aircraft, circa 1987. The plane crashes into the brutally inhospitable nether-regions of Antarctica and is lost to the elements until 20 years later, when some personnel from the Amundsen-Scott Research Station stumble upon her and her valuable booty.
Sena, who peaked early in his career with the terrific Brad Pitt/David Duchovny thriller Kalifornia (1993) before thriving with Hollywood hokum like Swordfish (2001) and Gone in 60 Seconds (2000) before bottoming out with the Nicholas Cage travesty Season of the Witch (2011), borrows some cues from great snowbound thrillers such as John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) – in fact, any tension that floats to the surface in the film’s first half comes from not knowing what all the fuss is about (is it alien?) and why men are dying because of it (SPOILER ALERT – it’s diamonds...yawn). Beckinsale plays the outpost’s Federal marshal, Carrie Stetko, serving out a period of self-banishment after a drug bust in Miami ended with her partner dead. (Miami to Antarctica?? That’s a lot of guilt she’s dealing with!)
Things go particularly bad with the introduction of UN investigative officer Robert Pryce, played by Gabriel Macht. Not just because he is a totally irrelevant character whose presence is never more than a plot red herring, despite extended dialogue and some lacklustre romantic chemistry with Beckinsale. The real downside of the character’s introduction is Macht who, as evidenced here and as the title character in that other dire graphic novel adaptation The Spirit, is one of the worst actors in Hollywood today.
A well-staged battle with the killer in a driving snow storm holds attention momentarily, but there’s no saving Whiteout from the brown heap of really bad American movies of the last few years. It’s doubly confounding that it should be such a misfire, coming as it does from the Dark Castle Entertainment, the horror genre arm of mega-producer Joel Silver’s Warner Bros-based production company that is overseen by Robert Zemeckis.
And Kate Beckinsale needs to pry herself free of the influence that her husband and Underworld director Len Wiseman has over her career choices – there is a fine actress behind all this macho-genre crap that his resume suggests he favours and in which she keeps appearing. Anymore stinkers like Whiteout and she’ll find herself TV-bound to topline another mediocre cop show (‘CSI: Anchorage’, perhaps – she’s already got an audition reel....)