Thursday, September 24, 2009

497 - Whiteout review



In “Whiteout,” Kate Beckinsale plays the world’s hottest police officer assigned to the world’s coldest place. The opening caption reads something like “Antarctica: The Coldest and Most Remote Place on Earth.” Loyal readers might remember that I scoffed at a caption in the first “Transformers” film that read “Qatar: The Middle East,” which assumes that everyone in the audience is a massive idiot. The difference here is that while “Transformers” really did treat its audience like morons (I’ll refrain from commenting on the film’s target demographic (the mention of which is commenting on it, but never mind)), “Whiteout” is merely just silly, a sort of goofy police procedural set in a fascinating location rarely mined by Hollywood, or any other country’s (vastly inferior) film industry.

The last encounter I had with Antarctica onscreen was Werner Herzog’s 2008 documentary “Encounters at the End of the World.” The Antarctica of that film was a frozen desert, populated by an eclectic collection of souls whose lives bent in highly unusual directions just to ensure them being there. It was an area where PhDs come to wash dishes, of weather so severe you might not be able to see six inches in front of your eyes, where ancient secrets of earth and nature sat waiting to be unlocked by those brave and lonely enough to give it a try.

The Antarctica of “Whiteout” (based on a comic book, er, graphic novel) keeps the frozen desert part, and even flirts with the scientific wonders, but mostly sees it as an unutilized location to set a murder mystery. Beckinsale plays Carrie Stetko, a U.S. marshal whose tragic past brought her to the most isolated post the service could offer her. Within two or so minutes of our introduction to her, she strips naked and takes a PG-13 shower. Is it in Beckinsale’s contract that any film she’s in must emphasize her rockin’ figure? A part of me wanted to complain about the brazen self-indulgence of such a scene, but if I were a woman with a figure that could melt steel, I imagine I’d want to make sure people see it as well.

The rest of “Whiteout” is similar in that a part of me wanted to jeer at the proceedings, but my heart wasn’t in the disapproval. The acting often veers into hammy, the f/x are shaky, and the plot only makes as much sense as you want it to. I thought of John Carpenter’s horror pic“The Thing,” and wished that “Whiteout” would have replicated that film’s claustrophobic paranoia. But “Whiteout” has its momentum, and I found myself looking forward to what happens next. It’s a bit like a TV procedural, only with a much higher budget, gorier deaths, and a more fascinating locale. On occasion, the film uses its setting to spectacular effectiveness, such as when Stetko and the killer battle it out in the middle of an ice storm, relying on a system of ropes to keep themselves from tumbling into oblivion. And I greatly admired the film’s willingness to commit a gruesome injury on its main character, one indicative of the real consequences of making mistakes in such a inhospitable environment.

Right now, “Whiteout” has a 7% on rottentomatoes.com. This means that out of a massive number of film critics, only 7% of them gave it a positive review. Balderdash, I say: this deserves at least a 20%.

3 out of 5

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