Saturday, May 22, 2010
Whiteout is a murder mystery set in the frozen tundra of Antarctica. Well, it's not so much a mystery as it is a process of elimination, since there's (maybe) thirty actors in the whole film. Kate Beckinsale plays the part of a US Marshall, whose back story the script assumes you want to learn more about. How should we learn about her? Colorful dialogue? Supporting characters talking behind her back? No, let's use the old repetitive partial flashbacks trick. That's always a crowd pleaser! As a viewer, there is nothing I like more than seeing the same flashback over and over again, until the script allows us to see the final little bit that explains why the flashback is supposed to be important. It's not annoying at all, even when you can summarize the scene with one sentence.
You might be wondering why Kate Beckinsale took this role, since there are neither vampires nor werewolves in the script. Well, at least not in the final script. I think she took the role to flex her acting skills, because most of the leading roles she gets have her thrown into skintight leather outfits, bending in pleasing, if surely uncomfortable, directions. This must seem like a vacation for her. All parkas, all the time? Not only does she force attention away from her body and toward her acting, she gets to eat whatever she wants during shooting because nobody looks sexy in a parka. Of course, the director manages to squeeze in a little T & A at the very beginning, as Beckinsale returns from finding the dead body and decides to take a shower. I would like to point out that most people would wear warmer undergarments in the Antarctic than she does. Oh, well. It's a personal choice.
Sorry, I got sidetracked. Where was I...? Oh yeah, the plot. Well, the movie actually begins with a scene set in the 1950s, aboard a Russian plane. The plane crashes in Antarctica after the passengers and pilots have a shootout over...well, that's not explained right away. Instead, we have a murder mystery that somehow involves these moronic Russians. Seriously, how stupid can they be? Obviously, there is something valuable on the plane; the camera gazes at one of the passenger's boxes too long for it to be accidental. There's nothing valuable in Antarctica, and it's nowhere near Russia or any Communist country, so these guys must have brought the valuables from somewhere else and then decided to...what? Take them to a Russian Antarctic observation station, where they can cash in their valuables for...um...new parkas? Maybe they were leaving the Russian station, heading to Moscow or something. But where did the valuables come from? Maybe they're not going or coming from Antarctica, but are just cutting across it as a shortcut to another Communist country. Well, that won't work, since none are located in the southern hemisphere. Like I said: morons.
Obviously, the mystery Russian valuables are the motivation for the murder. Otherwise, the Russians in the beginning make no damn sense whatsoever. The only question is who the murderer could be...and whether he is working alone or not. That gives us only a few people to consider. Is the murderer Tom Skerritt, Beckinsale's best friend on base and the base's longtime doctor? Perhaps it is Columbus Short, who acts as a friendly sidekick to this murder mystery. Well, no, he gets beat up. Hmm...is it Gabriel Macht, an inspector from the UN whose arrival coincides suspiciously with some of the killer's assaults? Seriously, I'm pretty sure they would have had a flashing neon sign reading "Suspect" around his neck if they could. Or is it Alex O'Laughlin, a jerk pilot that can fly himself out of Antarctica if he found, say, something Russian and valuable?
It doesn't matter. You won't care. Sure, the plot is a little dumb, and it probably should have omitted the Russian beginning because, let's face it, stumbling across the wreckage of the plane is all we really need to know about how it got there (hint: it crashed). It's not a fatally stupid premise, though. The problem is what makes this movie unique: the setting. The killer is forced to disguise himself in a parka, mask, hood and goggles...just like every character that goes outside in this film. The wind and snow often buffet the camera, making the characters indistinguishable for the viewers, which makes a chase scene a lot less suspenseful. When you can't tell which parka has the killer in it, you stop caring pretty quickly. Speaking of missing the last boat to Suspense Island, both the killer and good guys have to tether themselves to guide ropes when they are outside for safety reasons. While logical, it seriously limits where the killer and heroes can run to. "I have to get away from this killer! ...As long as 'away' is just further down this guide rope."
This movie is just bad. It's not necessarily the actors' fault, but they don't really help their cause. The script, taken from a Greg Rucka comic, is dull, at best. The ending is anticlimactic, although unintentionally funny. Okay, I'll spoil it for you: Tom Skerritt, the ringleader of everything, is found out, and decides to walk out into the tundra to freeze to death with Beckinsale's approval. Probably not what her superior wants to read on the official report. Hilarious. The real problem is the setting. In a book, the environment can become a character and really add to a story. Some movies can make the outdoors absolutely frightening. This movie just feels a little clammy.