Holy tedium, Val Kilmer. Whiteout is a fetid piece of desiccated dog crap freeze dried to the soles of your bare feet, and no amount of odor eaters will kill the smell of this turd. If the glaciers really are melting in the ice caps, they’re moving quicker than Whiteout. To call it slow would be a disservice to geriatric tortoises hopped up on Quaaludes and hare droppings. This is not a movie that you sit through checking your watch; you check your calendar to ensure it’s still the same day you walked in to the theater.
Kate Beckinsale stars as U.S. Marshall Carrie Stetko. She’s got about half a scene worth watching, and it’s only because it doesn’t require her to speak: The opening frames see her disrobe and walk into a shower for absolutely no reason other than the fact that Dominic Sena knows that a close-up of an attractive woman’s bare flesh is the only selling point he has (see also, Halle Berry, Swordfish). Sadly, it is the highlight. It’s all downhill from that moment on.
Stetko has been patrolling the South Pole for two years, collecting collars on petty misdemeanors and writing parking citations for snow mobiles. She decided to take the post at the Pole to help her put a bad episode with a former partner behind her, an episode that Sena unnecessarily belabors over, as if he needed an excuse to draw out the running time. Stetko is set, a few days hence, to resign her post and return to warmer climes. Then the snow drifts languidly into the fan: A man pops up dead a few miles from base. A few seconds with the body and Stetko surmises that it’s a murder — the first ever in Antarctica. A second occurs a few hours later, and Stetko narrowly misses becoming the third when she’s chased through a whiteout by a man with a pick ax. And by “chase,” I mean, the assailant lumbers after her while clipped to a wire to keep the blizzard from blowing him out into the Antarctic.
Now we have a murder mystery on our hands, although mystery would suggest that we don’t know before the first act is over who the man behind the murders is. I’ll give you a hint: Beckinsale’s co-stars are Gabriel Macht, an FBI Agent brought in to assist in the investigation; Columbus Short, as the pilot; and Tom Skerritt, as Dr. John Fury. Consider the careers of the three actors and use Occam’s razor. The red herring, apparently, is that the obvious choice is just too obvious. But guess what? Nothing is too obvious for Dominic Sena, who apparently got his director’s license at the University of No Shit.
What’s the motivation for the killings? Psychopathy? A vendetta? Funsies? Jellybeans? It’s a lot closer to the jellybeans than anything else, which means that somehow Dominic Sena has managed to not only direct one of the most absurdly slow movies I’ve ever seen, but he still manages to conclude the entire thing anti-climatically, which is a bit like an anticlimactic resolution to watching paint dry.
Put aside the no duh mystery and the pace of a crippled slow zombie, and Whiteout is still plagued by stilted dialogue delivered by a group of actors too numbed by the cold to alter their monotone. It’s a lifeless fist of ham, but the worst offense is that Sena doesn’t really do anything with his setting. There are plenty of opportunities to maximize fear behind the isolation, alienation, and freezing temperatures of Antarctica. Even the most pedestrian mystery could’ve become something more if he’s effectively utilized the harsh conditions. Unfortunately, Sena never uses what’s right in front of him, and if you’re going to make a movie where Beckinsale is forced to wear layers, you’d think he’d at least try to balance the loss with a gain. If you want to know what hell looks like frozen over, look no further than Whiteout.