© 2009 Ray Wong
What is it about graphic novels that they seem to falter as feature films? And I don't mean popular properties such as Spider-Man or X-Men. Whiteout, which is based on Greg Rucka's graphic novel, can't avoid that fate.
Carrie Stetko (Kate Beckinsale) is a US Marshall stationed at a research facility in Antarctica during the "summer." Just a few days before the entire team leaves for the long winter, a body shows up in an isolated patch of ice miles away. The body turns out to be a geologist working at a nearby Russian station. Carrie believes it's homicide, but Dr. John Fury reminds her that if she continues with the investigation, they'd be stuck there for another six months. Carrie reluctantly agrees to leave the investigation to authorities in the mainland.
However, a series of events lead Carrie back to the case, as another geologist is murdered and the killer tries to eliminate Carrie as well. Agent Robert Pryce has been sent to investigate, and together they discover a 50-year-old crash site, where a Russian cargo plane went down and some canisters of potential radioactive materials have been taken. Carrie believes the plane and the missing canisters are linked to the killer. Everyone at the base is now a suspect. As an approaching storm threatens the safety of the crew and forces the base to evacuate, Carrie only has a few hours to crack the case and find the killer when her own life is at danger.
Kate Beckinsale (Underworld: Rise of the Lycans) is a talented, beautiful actress who seems to have carved out a niche for herself as an action heroine. However, in Whiteout, the classic beauty seems out of the place as the hard-boiled US marshal. She tries her best, though, to show the character's intelligence, resolution, and vulnerability. Gabriel Macht (The Spirit) plays agent Robert Pryce with a smirk and a wink, but his performance lacks gravitas. In fact, the whole cast seems very young and light, and too pretty to be taken seriously, with the exception of Tom Skerritt (The Velveteen Rabbit). The veteran adds some weight to the production but ultimately is wasted in a cliched role.
Colombus Short (Quarantine) is charismatic as pilot Delfy, and he adds some colors (literally) to the all-Caucasian cast (yes, and the movie is called Whiteout). Alex O'Loughlin (August Rush) has the thankless job of playing a stereotypical douche-bag. Shawn Boyle (Mount Pleasant) impresses in his minor role as Carrie's boss.
Written by Jon and Erich Hoeber (Montana) as well as Chad and Carey Hayes (The Reaping), the screenplay follows a standard mystery-thriller formula set in an unusual locale. The prologue is interesting but proves to be cliched and unnecessary. In fact, the problem with the screenplay is the source material: Greg Rucka's graphic novel. It is cliched, predictable and, in many ways, trivial. That is unfortunate especially for a thriller. It took me fifteen minutes to figure out what the story was really about and who the killer was, and I'm hardly a genius. The story is so full of holes that once you get over the actions, you start to scratch your head and wonder, "What the heck?" For a murder mystery and thriller, especially written by four screenwriters, the predictability is unforgivable.
Part of the blame rests on director Dominic Sena (Swordfish), who insists on leaving obvious clues and visual cues as if he doesn't trust the audiences are smart enough to get it. Like I said, I figured it all out within the first 15 or 20 minutes, and that can't be a good thing. There are so many cliches this film can serve as a guidebook for "what not to do." And Sena has the audacity to begin the main narrative with a gratuitous shower scene of Beckinsale (not that I'm complaining -- she's one sexy woman). That sets the wrong tone, as there is nothing sexual in the plot (unlike, say, The Silence of the Lambs).
Some of the snowy, icy scenes are quite breathtaking, and the action sequences are in general adequate. There are a key fight scenes, however, where we can't tell what is happening with whom. Everything is blurry and all the characters (in their thick winter coats) look the same.
Whiteout is a poor execution of a poor story with poor character development. It fails on so many levels that it seems such a waste. It's something that sounds good on paper (or in a graphic novel) but falters on screen. It's definitely a strikeout.
Stars: Kate Beckinsale, Gabriel Macht, Tom Skerritt, Columbus Short, Alex O'Loughlin, Shawn Doyle, Joel S. Keller
Director: Dominic Sena
Writers: Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber, Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes (based on graphic novel by Greg Rucka)
Distributor: Warner Bros.
MPAA Rating: R for violence, grisly images, brief strong language and some nudity
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Script – 6
Performance – 6
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 7
Production – 8
Total – 6.2 out of 10