AUGUST 28, 2009
There is nothing worse than watching a movie and spending most of it thinking of all the different ways it could be better. Unfortunately, Whiteout is one such film. There are a bunch of interesting elements in the storyline, but rather than focus on one and make something truly enjoyable, the myriad producers and screenwriters decided to put in ALL of them, resulting in one of the most weightless films I can recall.
For example, the movie takes place in Antarctica, in the days leading up to a point of the year when it is going to be dark (and thus even less inhabitable) for six months. But rather than use this in any meaningful way, the “tension” relies on whether or not our main characters will solve the crime at hand before the plane has to leave. First of all - we know goddamn well that they won’t get on that plane, so this should have been an event for the end of the first act, not the second. Secondly - the crime itself (the theft/coverup of some unknown Russian cargo) isn’t nearly compelling enough for anyone to even CARE if they solve the crime or not, because it doesn’t seem like any of our characters are in any danger. As a result, we have little investment in what passes for a ticking countdown story (as opposed to say, Die Hard 2’s “your wife’s plane has 67 minutes left before it runs out of fuel” stuff).
See, the theft stuff boils down to greed. Three guys find a treasure (we don’t know what it is until the very end, and it’s as generic an answer as you can possibly imagine) and one of them decides to kill the other two to keep it all for himself. But he does that fairly early on, and doesn’t seem to wish any harm toward Kate Beckinsale or any of the other good guy characters, so again - so what? The filmmakers try to mix it up a bit by adding in a “twist” that reveals another character was actually working with the killer guy, but this doesn’t work either, because we once again have a distinguished actor in a nothing role for the first 80 minutes of the movie, leaving us no choice but to suspect him as being villainous once he survives the first act (which is the only other path to take for an actor of this caliber in this sort of role).
There’s also some half-baked backstory about Beckinsale’s past. It seems back when she was working in Miami (a setting that probably only exists to get in a few scenes of Kate wearing more revealing clothing; we also have a nonsensical shower scene to make up for all of the “covered in a parka and snow hat” nonsense), her partner sold her out. As a result, not only does she not trust people, she doesn’t trust her own judgment. Hence why she took this easy post, because she doubts her skills as a marshal. And this would be fine, but they don’t make her arc incredibly compelling in any way. Not only does it hinge on whether or not she solves a dull case, but her new “partner” (Gabriel Macht) never comes off as a legitimate suspect, let alone a red herring. Like everything else in the movie, he’s just sort of there, and again - most people will figure out the bad guy’s identity after twenty minutes or so anyway (before Macht even appears).
And the MUSIC! I dunno if director Dominic Sena is insane, or composer John Frizzell had dirt on someone and blackmailed them, but whatever the reason, I have never seen such liberal over-use of the film’s score. It’s bad enough that it sounds exactly like the Bourne films’ score by John Powell, but it plays over nearly every single scene. Even otherwise quiet dialogue scenes are counter-productively drowned out by the incessant “Dun dun DUN DUN DUN DUN dun dun” instrumental score. None of it matches to what is happening on the screen, and it’s a constant distraction. Of course, it may help to fully drown out some of the clunky “investigative” dialogue, such as when the movie stops cold (heh, pun just realized) to have Beckinsale and Macht figure out which blood splatter belongs to which corpse.
Here’s how I would have made this movie. It starts off with a murder. Beckinsale arrives after doing a patrol, word of the murder gets back to her, she starts to investigate, despite protest from her buddy, who wants her to just pass it off to someone else before they all leave to avoid the 6 month darkness. She thinks she can solve it in time, and rounds up a suspect or two. Macht can arrive at the base around this point. Then the plane has to leave early for whatever reason, and through the usual movie plotting bullshit, it leaves with Beckinsale, Macht, her buddy, the suspects, and maybe 2-3 others behind. Now they are trapped for 6 months and they know one of them is a killer. Boom! Done. Instead, the movie just treads water and doesn’t isolate them until the final 15-20 minutes.
And the fact that they are trying to sell this to horror fans is downright laughable (though not as laughable as the opening on-screen title that tells us that Antarctica is the “coldest place on Earth”. No shit.). There’s one scene that plays like something out of a slasher movie, but the “slasher” is caught and anti-climatically revealed in the next scene after he’s been arrested. The main villain doesn’t want to hurt anyone, and they don’t even really play up the psychological aspects of being isolated and/or the possibility of living in complete darkness for half a year. Like the plot elements, it seems they just tossed in some horror stuff in order to make the movie as “well-rounded” as possible, since it also plays like a mystery, a procedural (I actually made the awful joke “this movie should be called Really Cold Case”), a thriller, and even an action movie during the (admittedly cool) shootout/plane crash sequence that opens the film.
Oh and the end of the movie rips off Point Break, of all things.
The only good thing I can say about this movie is that because they told us it was a horror movie, I got to sit down (on camera!) and talk to Kate Beckinsale, whom I consider to be one of the most beautiful women in the world. Unfortunately it was difficult to come up with questions to ask about a movie that I (and seemingly, she - though to be fair they shot the damn thing over two years ago) didn’t care about in the slightest, so I just asked the sort of generic questions that I normally would groan at (“How cold was it on the set?”). The only thing of interest about the interview would be watching me stammer as I lose my train of thought (twice!), and I edited that shit out anyway to make myself look like less of an asshole. Still, it’s only 4 minutes, free to watch, and far more enjoyable than Whiteout, so check it out below! (I had to make it smaller than its default size to fit nicely on here, so it's a bit clunky. The play button IS there on the bottom right corner, but you wont have any other controls. Head over to Bloody-D if you're having trouble.)
What say you?