INTERACTIVE (Rate the Review) . "WhiteOut"

In a prologue, a Russian cargo plane carrying a mystery cargo worth killing for, goes down in the Antarctic when the co-pilot tries to eliminate the crew. Some 52 years later, the plane, with cargo and corpses aboard, buried in the ice not far from a South Pole research base, has come to someone's attention and things at the installation will never be the same.

But first, we are treated to an introduction of parka-clad U.S. Marshall Carrie Stedko (Kate Beckinsale), stationed at the base to protect it and the people who work there. The treat comes in the form of a South Pole strip tease when she's back in her quarters and removes layers of thermal gear until the final one on top comes off (we now see her from behind). When she bends down to adjust the shower faucet and, well I don't know about you guys but I got a rush.

The only reason I mention this detail is because throughout the movie I kept wondering what a very fine backside had to do with the narrative of the story, but more on that later. The point, for now, is that we're dealing with outside temps that can kill the unprepared in minutes.

This effect of sub-zero temp does have something to do with the story, in that a severe winter storm is appearing on weather screens and dictating a complete evacuation of the base. Before that happens, we meet Dr. John Fury, the base's "Doc" (amiable Tom Skerritt, "Contact") who has become a trusted sidekick/big brother to Carrie that he can let himself into her room while she's in the shower. But this has no sinister side--he's just one of the good guys in her world. No doubt, he never made a pass, so he's easy to have around.

We also have time for a flashback or two on Carrie's screen of memory that will explain what a good Marshall she is and what she's doing on such a godforsaken post. Which is when the first violent death occurs on Antarctic soil, er, that is, snow. Whatever it is, a corpse has been discovered and Carrie is to go and investigate, which she does in the good companionship of pilot Delfy (Columbus Short, "Stomp the Yard").

The corpse is the victim of a splat from a high starting point, so the guess is that he fell off the cliff at the base of which the body lies. Someone threw him and a killer is loose. Suicide is not considered. Falling out of an airplane is not considered. Let's not muck up the flow of the story or Carrie's legendary detective creds just yet.

Later, when she's suited up and making her way from one building on the station to another by a series of guide ropes in the event of a whiteout, she's attacked by a violent killer wielding a pickax. Somehow the feisty agent avoids the taste of metal, and reaches safe harbor before her attacker does, and alerting everyone that there's a maniac loose in their back yard.

The report of another strange occurrence brings Carrie, Delfy at the wheel of an outsized snow-mobile, and the newly arrived Robert Pryce (Gabriel Macht, "The Spirit"), a U.N. investigator, to a coordinate where she discovers that the ice has been disturbed. When she explores further, she falls into a crevasse, which is the poorly camoflaged entranceway to the Russian plane. The mystery grows thick while the ice on which the story elements struggle to survive grows thinner and thinner. Too bad about global warming.

We are suddenly plunged into something a great deal less than the promise of a taut drama. That lasted about twelve minutes. A certain storytelling aimlessness sets in with the rising storm that suggests a whiteout in the room where the contributing screenwriters had to reconcile their versions. Something blinded them to the need for at least one more draft. When you start wishing the flashbacks was the movie, you've got to figure they had a whiteout of the critical faculties, but it's too late for forgiveness.

The surprise ending is marred by a loose red herring or two floating around in the corridors and cabins for the base station. There are too many unintended laugh lines, many which came at a moment of melodramatic shift toward overemphasis. And Beckinsale, a genre-jumper (who does she think she is, Meryl Streep?) who is good in about forty percent of what she takes on to do, suffers the most for it.

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Which recalls that pre-shower expose' of her derrier that I enjoyed so much in the early minutes of the film. What does it have to do with the story? All I can figure out [no pun intended] is that she, an actress who has been more than a little sexually conservative in her work ("Laurel Canyon," "Underworld," "Nothing But the Truth"), had a change of heart and agreed with her director Dominic Sena ("Swordfish") to show us what she had simply because her thick polar outfits would deny us any opportunity for the rest of the drama to take note of what a fine babe we had in the central role. Perhaps, finally, she's came to appreciate what an asset her sensuality is. Many actresses are ready to reveal once they reach their mid-30s and want to record what they had before nature takes it's course. Is that unfair? Suggesting too much? Write me.

In any case, "Whiteout" is the better for having had the heat this generated, though barely enough to improve boxoffice temps.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Kate Beckinsale as U.S. Marshall Carrie Stedko
Under some duress.

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