"Whiteout" is so staggeringly bad that it achieves a kind of transcendent poetry. It's ignorant of how things are in the real world, of what makes a thriller a thriller, of why people seek out entertainment. It's a movie made for an irony-free world populated by impaired moviegoers who are amused simply by shapes and sounds and shiny things -- specifically the shape of Kate Beckinsale's buttocks, the sound of her turning on a hot shower and the gleam of a pickax slicing down at her.
All of these things would be welcome in a movie that also has some sense of grace, surprise, timing, character, terror and style. "Whiteout" has none of these things. A chimpanzee could've finger-painted a better movie. A chimpanzee, somewhere in the world, probably has.
Attention, chimpanzee: Send your finger-painted screenplay to Tom Skerritt. He'll sign on for it. He signed up for "Whiteout," after all.
Beckinsale is Carrie Stetko, an all-business U.S. marshal stationed at a South Pole research outpost in Antarctica. Skerritt plays the station's grizzled doctor, whom everyone calls (wait for it) "Doc." To South Pole rookies, Doc dispenses priceless advice like "never underestimate the ice" in front of a green-screen backdrop of an Antarctic sunset that looks like it was purchased at a yard sale.
Carrie and Doc are reaching the end of a two-year stint at the base, but plans change when a mangled, frozen body is discovered. The U.S. marshal -- and there really is one stationed there -- finally has some malfeasance to tackle. The discovery of the corpse is the starting point for a plotless, bewildering meander underscored by Carrie's back story, which consists of her shooting her crooked partner years earlier. Whenever she's faced with danger in Antarctica, Carrie flashes back to that trauma, which is laughably rendered in slow motion, gauzy light and soft focus.
Have the penguins stopped screaming, Agent Stetko?
All the dialogue in "Whiteout" serves solely at the pleasure of the "plot." Characters make near-psychic observations of each other to move the story along. Carrie's forensic abilities are superhuman; she decodes the movie's central crime scene within 30 seconds. A slasher film set in Antarctica is a great idea, but "Whiteout" doesn't count as one because the killer is quashed early on.
These days, most cheap thrillers, however terrible, at least go out with a bang. This one whimpers to a close. The only surprise is the sudden appearance of the end credits, which arrive before any hint of excitement does.
-- Dan Zak (September 11, 2009)
Whiteout (96 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for violence, grisly images, brief strong language and some nudity.