Whiteout (review)

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Frozen Silly

What’s a nice U.S. marshal like Carrie Stetko doing in a place like Antarctica? Freezing her ass off. *cue rimshot*

If Whiteout were as entertaining as a bad nightclub act telling stale jokes, it’d be a massive improvement over the laughably lackluster police procedural that it is, which would be merely terrible were it set in New York or Los Angeles or Chicago. But set in Antarctica — surely one of the coolest places on Earth, and I’m not talking about the weather — it approaches something of a cinematic crime itself. Oh, the squandering! It’s like setting a story on Mars and then pretending we’re just out in the Arizona desert.
Seems it took four screenwriters — Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber, Chad Hayes, and Carey Hayes — to come up with a few offhand remarks about the extreme cold for the characters to utter, to write the onscreen captions that inform the viewer that Antarctica is like totally the coldest place on the planet, and then to almost completely ignore the dramatic location from then on. (The Hayeses wrote the awful The Reaping and the worst 2005 remake of House of Wax and yet they still get work. Amazing.) And director Dominic Sena (Swordfish, Gone in 60 Seconds: more warning signs) deserves some of the blame, too, for shooting the whole damn film as if it were taking place in and around an office building in North Dakota in February.

Lonely? Forget it. Amundson-Scott South Pole Station is positively bustling — it’s like Grand Central fucking Station down there. Now, sure, there really are hundreds of scientists and support staff hanging around and working and goofing off all summer in the real place, but this is supposed to be a movie that wants to be all dramatic and stuff about Antarctica, so they could maybe at least pretend that hundreds of people cooped up in a couple big tin cans without the possibility of getting a pizza delivered presents a few problems.

But nope, it’s only Stetko (Kate Beckinsale: Nothing But the Truth, Click) who’s got issues. (Well, someone else has issues, too, but if I tell you who that is, it’ll give away who the killer is. Not that you won’t guess from the moment that character appears anyway.) Her issues compel her, apparently, to take hot steamy sexy showers. That’s how we’re introduced to her: she stands before Sena’s camera and strips down to nothing and takes a nice long relaxing shower. Just like all cops with issues do when we meet them on film. Maybe Sena and the screenwriters wanted us to know that life at the Pole does have its little luxuries, like indoor plumbing. Or that, you know, Stetko has A Past. She is Haunted. Like all movie cops. Something Bad happened in her old post chasing drug runners, and so now she is driven to take long relaxing sexy steamy showers and to say things like this: “Ever since I saw Weiss’s body, it been like 85 degrees and 90 percent humidity.” Miami… she’ll never be over Miami.

Weiss is a geologist who’s been murdered and his body dumped waaaay out on the ice. But it’s 72 hours till the last flight out before winter closes in and no one goes anywhere for six months — unless that thar storm blowin’ in forces that timetable up, which would be awfully convenient for the movie should it start to show a ridiculous hand and need to dummy up some suspense. So Stetko’s on the clock: find the killer, or… well, we never quite get why it’s so vital to solve the crime immediately. It’s not like there isn’t an exactly precise roster of who’s on the base. There are no walk-ins here.

It’s all just part of the absurdities Whiteout appears to be enjoying tossing at us. The idea that this, the first murder in the international territory of Antarctica, is something of an embarrassment for the UN, is floated — in the person of Robert Pryce (Gabriel Macht: The Spirit, Because I Said So) — and then forgotten. Pryce is supposed to be some sort of special UN cop who arrives, actually, almost as a walk-in, though he might as well be wearing a T-shirt that reads “Red herring… or am I?” But by far the most hilarious aspect of the flick is that Stetko, unlike most haunted movie cops with issues, is right to have issues. As the film opens, she’s about to hand in her badge: she doesn’t trust herself anymore after what happened in Miami. She’s afraid she’s a lousy cop. And it turns out she’s right: she actually is a lousy cop.

Except when the script requires her to psychically interpret a crime scene that’s nothing but white ice and snow. That she can do just fine. But if she were that psychic, you’d think she would have known to stay far away from this movie in the first place.

(You can read the whole first issue of the comic series this is based on at the site of artist Steve Lieber; it was written by Greg Rucka. But don’t hold this movie against them.)

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Thu, Sep 10, 2009 6:29pm

Too bad. Was kinda looking forward to this actually.

*Takes a sexy steamy relaxing shower.

Fri, Sep 11, 2009 2:37am

“she stands before Sena’s camera and strips down to nothing and takes a nice long relaxing showe”

I’m a guy, that’s all I need

Victor Plenty
Victor Plenty
Fri, Sep 11, 2009 4:38am

I have no desire to see this movie, but I want a T-shirt that reads “Red herring… or am I?”

Sadly, I suspect it would be less fun than I at first imagined. Anybody who truly understands that T-shirt will feel compelled to pretend they don’t.

All of a sudden my head hurts. Maybe a long shower would help.

C. David Dent
Fri, Sep 11, 2009 10:04am

I’ll probably still see this movie only because I hope the comicbook artists and writers will get a piece of it. Whiteout is a fantastic comic that uses both the stark setting and somewhat unusual circumstances to tell a tense and gripping story. I had hoped this movie would do that too – no such luck huh?

Ah, well, I was concerned when I heard who was playing Carrie Stetko – in the comic she is portrayed as plain, not unattractive, just not attractive. So right from casting the filmakers have decided to change part of what made the comic unique.

The previews also seem to hint that they’ve made changes to the story as well. Part of what made it a good story was that it was plausible. And from your review it sounds like they’ve removed the lesbian subtext as well (and it really is subtext, it is never explicitly shown or even winked at it is just sort of there without being there). Too bad, it was masterfully handled.

I begin to see why it has taken so long to get this film released, I suspect that hoards of editors and punch-up guys have been pouring over the final cut of the movie looking for ways to tweak it into something more interesting.

I suspect I’ll be disappointed in the theater.

Fri, Sep 11, 2009 11:52am

@c david dent, I thought I knew a little bit about comics, but I’ve never heard of Whiteout. Even though this movie looks like crap, that’s hardly ever reflected on the source material, (Spawn, for just one example).
btw, John Carpenter’s The Thing is the based Antarctica based movie ever made.

Fri, Sep 11, 2009 12:07pm

I want a Red Herring t-shrit too. That would be sweet.

bats :[
bats :[
Fri, Sep 11, 2009 1:13pm

And Kate’s career goes on another swirly ride…

Fri, Sep 11, 2009 1:13pm

Do read Whiteout the comic, as well as its sequel, Whiteout: Melt. They’re both excellent.