It seems the reviews for the new Kate Beckinsale action star-vehicle “Whiteout” have been uniformly pretty lousy, but for whatever it’s worth, your host here didn’t think this was a bad little suspense flick. Maybe it was because I’d just walked out of the loathsome “Jennifer’s Body” after 30 minutes and anything less overwhelmed by its own supposed brilliance would have seemed good at that point. Maybe it’s because I had no expectations apart from the fact I had just under two hours to kill and this looked like it would do the job. Maybe it’s because I in no way expected it to be anywhere near as good as Howard Hawks’ original “The Thing” or John Carpenter’s absolutely seminal quasi-remake of the same name, movies to which this has unfairly been compared merely because of its locale (do we expect every movie set in Seattle to be as abominable as “Sleepless In—,” for instance? Of course not, so why expect this to be similar to either version of “The Thing” merely because it’s set in Antarctica?) Anyway, whatever the convergence of factors that lead to my ultimate conclusion upon exiting the theater, I must say this was a perfectly enjoyable time-waster.
Beckinsale, for her part, is a pretty natural bad-ass action flick chick, and guffaw all you want, I don’t think her “Underworld” stuff is half-bad. Karyn Kusama and Diablo Cody spent who knows how many hours and millions of dollars trying (and failing) to transform Megan Fox into the kind of tough-as-nails (albeit with an evil side) broad that Beckinsale portrays with regularity seemingly effortlessly.
Director Dominic Sena, who was previously responsible for the appalling “Gone in 60 Seconds” remake with Nic Cage and Angelina Jolie and the completely forgettable (except for that one scene, and guys you know which one I’m talking about) “Swordfish,” doesn’t boast a resume to inspire much confidence, but here he gets a damn solid performance from his leading lady, keeps the action moving along at a nice, tight little clip, and does a great job of evoking the barren isolation and unimaginable hazard of life on our southern pole.
The plot is straightforward and simple, as the good ones usually are—a Russian plane goes down over the Antarctic fifty or so years back, and then we fast-forward to the present day where US Marshal Carrie Stetko (Beckinsale), a veteran woman of the law, has volunteered for South Pole duty to escape some demons in her past, and ends up investigating a murder when a body that appears to have been dumped from a plane turns up way beyond the vicinity of any of the numerous research stations (a large , sophisticated and altogether impressive one of which she has her office in) that dot the landscape down there. She’s assisted in her investigation by the research center’s Doctor, John Fury (gotta love any movie that has a character with that name and is in no way trying to be ironic about it) ably portrayed by poor-man’s-Kris-Kristofferson Tom Skerritt, and along the way they pick up some assistance from UN investigator (I didn’t know they employed cops and I can’t say I care for the idea) Robert Pryce, portrayed in rather uninspired, mail-it-in fashion by Gabriel Macht. Our intrepid little crew has to work quickly, though, because a nasty-ass storm windstorm that whips up flying snow so thick you can’t see an inch in front of your face (the “whiteout”s of the title) is on the way and the base is being evaced pronto. Our foursome (they’ve got a pilot with them, too, named Delfy and played in solid amusing-sidekick-with-a-heart-of-gold fashion by Columbus Short) isn’t leaving with the staff, but they’re going to be confined to the base’s interior so they need to gather any clues they can while the getting’s (relatively, this is the South Pole, after all) good.
As things unfold we are presented with a perfectly serviceable little mystery, some great outdoor action (the northern Quebec and Manitoba locations are really quite convincing ) and a not-totally-unsurprising-but-still-pleasant-enough-in-its-own-unobtrusive-way plot twist towards the end. Hardly the stuff of a truly memorable thriller, but certainly better than most of what’s out there and a not-at-all-unwelcome change of pace from Hollywood’s super-megabuck purportedly “exciting” summer blockbuster fare and the navel-gazing, overly-impressed-with-its-own-entirely-nonexistent-cleverness-and/or-phony-“truthfulness” that’s come to dominate “indie” film in recent years.
“Whiteout”—based on a comic (excuse me, “graphic novel”) of the same name by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber and published by Kevin Smith’s Oni Press — succeeds largely because it doesn’t have any delusions of grandeur about what it is and doesn’t aspire to do any more than it can. That may not be the most ringing endorsement you’ll ever come across, but it does mean it’s a fundamentally more honest piece of filmmaking than most anything else out there you could spend your time and money on.