Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
September 2009

Because 'Liquid Paper' wasn't as catchy

'Whiteout' is a lifeless exercise in familiar territory

Whiteout
Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: Dominic Sena
Screenplay: Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber, Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes, based on the graphic novel by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Gabriel Macht, Tom Skerritt, Columbus Short, Alex O'Loughlin and Joel S. Keller
Rated R / 1 hour, 41 minutes
(out of four)

Has there ever been a movie cop who wasn't being haunted by an old case? You know the type - they were betrayed, or they killed someone, and they've fallen into a funk, and they're getting ready to turn in their badge.

Of all the times that device has been used, rarely has it seemed so arbitrary as it does in Whiteout. Kate Beckinsale plays the world's hottest U.S. Marshal, Carrie Stetko, appropriately working in the world's coldest place. (How do I know it's the coldest? Well, because of the opening title card, of course - which informs us that Antarctica is "THE COLDEST, MOST ISOLATED LAND MASS ON THE PLANET." Thanks, title card!)

She's stationed on an American research base tackling mostly petty crime - the byproduct of a case that went terribly wrong two years ago. While working a case in Miami - a Miami that looks curiously like a cheaply mocked-up soundstage - she was betrayed and ended up taking a life.

She had herself transferred to Antarctica to get a break from the pressure cooker of Fake Miami, but after two years of deliberation she's decided she's had enough and is quitting the agency for good.

Stetko's backstory, revealed in a series of clumsy flashbacks, serves little purpose aside from being a typically convenient juxtaposition when she gets drawn into a murder case on - how's this for unexpected? - her last day on the job. Snippets of the Miami case pop up as if only to provide us with clues about how the current case will progress.

Stetko is tortured by the fact that, back in Florida, she wasn't able to see who had betrayed her, and wound up paying a price for it. And so, in this new case, she once again can't figure out who has betrayed her.

I get the sneaking suspicion she's not a very good U.S. Marshal.

Then again, her obliviousness seems more a product of filmmakers trying to wait until the last minute to tell us who the bad guy is. Stetko never had a chance. It's like trying to hit the abort button on the nuclear missile launcher a few seconds too early - no matter what, the timer's not going to stop until the one-second mark.

Nevermind that the big reveal seems obvious even from the beginning - and becomes more obvious with each detail we learn about the Miami case - the film insists on trying to fool us anyway. The mystery starts with a dead body that Stetko finds out in the middle of nowhere and leads her to something buried deep underneath the ice and snow. Bodies begin to pile up - a few cold and stiff, a few fresh and warm.

With the base being evacuated due to an oncoming storm, Stetko has only her dear friend Dr. Fury (Tom Skerritt), her pilot (Alex O'Loughlin) and an ominous United Nations investigator (Gabriel Macht) to help her crack the case.

A common failure of filmmakers is mistaking twists and turns and action with actual intrigue. (Anyone who's ever watched a Hitchcock movie should be able to tell the difference.) Chalk Whiteout up as another "thriller" that hasn't learned how to thrill. For all its earnest attempts at creating terror and excitement, the end result is flat-out dull.

Director Dominic Sena certainly has a history of making bad movies (Swordfish, Kalifornia, Gone in 60 Seconds), but at least he wasn't boring. In this case, conventional wisdom says murder + Cold War intrigue (yep) + Kate Beckinsale + the coldest, most isolated land mass on the planet would have to have some sort of appeal. But Whiteout somehow manages to make all four seem thoroughly uninteresting.

Well . . . maybe not Beckinsale. But three out of four.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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