The most telling component of how misguided and laboriously mediocre Whiteout, the latest film from Gone in 60 Seconds director Dominic Sena, is can be found within the manner in which its heroine, United States Marshal Carrie Stetko, is introduced. The camera tracks the back of Stetko, played by the aesthetically immaculate Kate Beckinsale, through the winding corridors of her station at a research lab on Antarctica before she arrives at her personal quarters. Beckinsale then begins to slowly remove every layer of her clothing in preparation for a remarkably unnecessary shower sequence.
Now, before that begins to sound like a prospect that may make Whiteout worth your time or money, keep in mind how unabashedly pointless this extended scene is. It's not showing us how savage the conditions in Antarctica are, as Beckinsale looks like she just emerged from a week at a health spa. It's not showing us how mundane her job is, as the camera spends a fraction of the time on her badge as it does her dwindling layers of clothing. No, the only purpose of this sequence is to show off the sole allure this film has: Kate Beckinsale. And Sena is brazen in treating her like a commodity.
This shouldn't come as a surprise from the man who captained the film that paid Halle Berry a bonus $500,000 for her bare bosom (note: Beckinsale does not actually go the Berry/Swordfish route), but it is the first sign of how tonally incongruous the entirety of Whiteout is. Preceding this strip-down is an opening flashback to fifty-years prior in which a poorly rendered CGI Soviet plane crashes under mysterious circumstances during a poorly rendered CGI snow storm. Following the shower sequence is the establishment of a murder mystery so convoluted it comes as no surprise that four different people share a screenwriting credit on top of the author of the graphic novel upon which the 'first murderer in Antarctica premise' is based.
Despite a smattering of truly comical flashbacks to Stetko's boring past as a rough-and-tumble Fed in Miami that share the same one-dimensionality as the pages its graphic novel are printed on, there's nothing to indicate Sena's film has anything resembling a literary ancestry, let alone a literate one. Rather, Whiteout is the film equivalent of a PC point-and-click adventure game from the '90s. The viewer is plunked down in the middle of an ordinary whodunit murder mystery that also happens to be set in an extraordinary location.
Clues intended to be subtle stand out like sore thumbs, so as to be accessible to any viewer regardless of their difficulty setting, and there are even moments in which an inventory of innocuous items are called upon to get the script and/or characters out of scenarios that are clearly intended to be intense -- but are instead only intensely boring. Only Whiteout isn't as enjoyable as an interactive murder mystery because there's considerable lag between when the film picks up on a plot point or action command and when the audience does.
Even more frustrating than the crippled speed with which Stetko solves the telegraphed mystery is the director's baffling inability to construct a coherent action sequence. I realize that the title of the film refers to the extreme weather conditions that are supposed to disorientate those unlucky enough to be caught within a whiteout, but that is no excuse for how poorly edited several outdoor struggles are. Judging by how cryptic the action is during these sequences, I would not doubt for a second if someone told me Dominic Sena was a Navajo codetalker in a past life. I'm all for a director attempting to create a sense of panic with their imagery, but that's not the case here.
Whiteout seems positively allergic to the idea that the audience should be treated as anyone with a brain, let alone anyone who has seen a movie before. There are glints of character empathy, namely during the examination of the aftermath of Stetko's glove-less run from the killer, but for the most part, they're all bits of cardboard caught up in a 96-minute puzzle that most viewers will solve within half that time. Beckinsale is dry, but pretty as Stetko. Tom Skerritt is underutilized as one of the few people she trusts at the station, while Gabriel Macht and Alex O'Laughlin seem as confused about their stilted roles as the audience is.
It would be a false comfort to say that Whiteout could have been a good movie in another's hands. The idea of a killer amongst a bunch of researchers isolated in the harsh climate of Antarctica is an interesting one, no doubt. John Carpenter proved it could be done exceptionally well twenty years ago with The Thing, but Carpenter also had brilliant source material, a wonderful cast, and a sense of imagination. Dominic Sena has bland source material that was adapted by a committee and given to a group of usually decent actors who give it their best to hide the fact that they joined such a gimped project purely for the paycheck. Whiteout is not even mildly thought-provoking or challenging; it is an even blanker canvas than the title implies.