DESPITE ITS ICE PICK-WIELDING MURDERER, Antarctic blizzards, dead Russians slumped over bottles of fine vodka, and foxy US Marshal, Whiteout somehow manages to be a bland film.
This becomes clear early on, in the second scene of the movie, as introductory words blaze onto the corner of the screen: "Antarctica: The coldest, most isolated place in the world." (Thank you, director Dominic Sena, for explaining the obvious.) And the film continues with its frustrating habit of underestimating the intelligence of its audience, filling its time with frequent, unnecessary flashbacks and characters who feel the need to spell out everything they're thinking. "This can't have been an accident!" announces supposedly razor-sharp US Marshal Carrie Stetko (Kate Beckinsale) as she helps dissect a man found dead in the middle of an Antarctic plateau, his face smashed and an axe wound in his back.
But the most infuriating aspect of the film is that the writers who don't respect their audience also don't respect their heroine. Whiteout is based on a comic book series of the same name that, unlike the film, is original and compelling and written by a good writer named Greg Rucka. The crux of the comic is the strong character of Stetko—she's a complex, kick-ass woman who connects more with ice than people. But Beckinsale plays Stetko to be likeable (bah!), a softer, more emotional woman with a vague personality. And if that's not bad enough, Beckinsale isn't on screen for more than a minute before she takes off her clothes and hops into a steamy shower sequence, signaling the filmmakers' fear of writing a ballsy female character who can't get wet and sexy, too.
That said, once you accept that this film is setting the bar lower than the comic book and isn't aiming to be anything more than a dumb thriller, there are some genuinely thrilling scenes. Stetko races to solve the murder before the last plane of the season leaves Antarctica and she's forced to winter over on the coldest and most isolated place in the world. Truly terrifying are the moments where Stetko pushes through roaring, world-obscuring snow while the killer, an axe-wielding man cloaked in ski gear, inches closer toward her through the blizzard. And as a smartass pilot named Delfy, Columbus Short provides a refreshing relief from the annoyingly wiffle-waffle of other characters: When Delfy's Sno-Cat breaks down and the dark and cold and all of the horror that is Antarctica is immediately present, Delfy reaches into his jacket for a swig of stolen Russian vodka. I was right there with him—after 30 minutes of this film, I could have used a drink, too.