I feel it is my responsibility — nay, my duty – to inform anyone thinking about seeing Dominic Sena's Whiteout that this is not a monster movie, or even one of much horror. The advertisements make this seem like a retread of John Carpenter's The Thing, with creatures lurking in the depths of the white snow and in the shadows of the isolated buildings. That is completely and utterly not the case.
Maybe the studio didn't have faith in what the film actually is — a whodunit set in a unique location. It's not a terribly exciting or engaging whodunit, at least as a whole, with only sporadic moments of well-executed tension. But misleading an audience before they purchase their tickets is only going to add insult to injury. I imagine many viewers, expecting a jumpy monster movie, or at least some sort of depiction of horrific events, are going to be coming out complaining about what they didn't get as much as what they did get.
Based on the 1998 comic series of the same name, Whiteout follows U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko (Kate Beckinsale), who's assigned to a base in Antarctica to investigate a murder three days before the harshest winter begins. Along with a U.N. 0perative (The Spirit's Gabriel Macht), she must investigate the murderous goings-on at the base as the bodies and mysteries pile up.
Whiteout feels like a non-supernatural version of a sub-par episode of The X-Files, filled with by-the-book twists and turns — some surprising, others painfully obvious — and action sequences that come around at the most expected of staged moments. Some of those action sequences are well done and satisfyingly thrilling, one in particular being where Beckinsale's Carrie Stetko faces the harsh outside weather to get away from a masked attacker (although to counter that, a central action sequence outside in the harsh weather is so blurry with snow that it becomes almost impossible to tell good guy – or in this case, woman – from bad). But unfortunately those instances don't rear their heads often enough, and in between those entertaining moments we must endure some questionable dialogue and boring, annoying, unnecessary flashback sequences.
Beckinsale is fine in her role, not particularly good but not in any way bad, either. It always really amazes me how well she hides her natural English accent (you'd never guess if you weren't aware of the fact to begin with). She's very good looking (read: easy on the eyes) and she's convincing when the action stuff comes around (see the Underworld films as another example of that). She carries the film on her shoulders a lot of the time when the dialogue, story or supporting performers waver in their duties.
The film has several unnecessary and poorly done elements (a shower scene toward the beginning will most likely take the year-end prize for Most Unnecessary Movie Scene), not least of which are the aforementioned flashback sequences. Throughout the movie we are slowly shown the answer as to what has made Beckinsale's character the way she is, why she's even in the Antarctic (of all places) in the first place. It's done in this very strange, bright orange, very stylized manner, which is probably an artistic choice to oppose the sheer whiteness of the primary location of the film. Unfortunately Whiteout's use of flashbacks is lazy and uninspired, everything that can go wrong with employing that particular storytelling technique.
For the most part, the story of Whiteout is a pretty uninteresting one, and not an entirely original one. It is original in the sense that we don't really see many films set in this location, mostly because it takes away a lot of the ability to create moody, shadowy situations in which to make things jump out at the audience. But the overall story of the investigation of several murders – with things being revealed along the way to not be what they seem, and with several possible murderers for the audience to choose from – it's a bit on the clichéd side.
But most of all, it's the twist ending that really is the most detrimental to the narrative as a whole. It's not one of those endings which jumps the shark in an attempt to try something really out there and totally failing at it. Rather this is one of those formulaic, completely obvious and uninspired endings that just drags everything down and undermines anything done well that came before it. It's as predictable and safe an ending as they could have came up with.
Director Dominic Sena's directing credits include the overly stylish and silly Swordfish and Gone In Sixty Seconds (the remake), both movies that are wholly enjoyable often because of, as well as in spite of, their undeniably bad elements. The same unfortunately can't be said for Whiteout. Despite some gripping and well done moments of tension and intrigue, it fails to overcome many of its flaws. In the end it's not a film so bad that it brings up any feelings of anger or contempt, but rather one that rides a safe crest from almost beginning to end, resulting in the dreaded unexcited and unenthusiastic response: "Meh."