Frozen on a shelf for three years, "Whiteout" stumbles its way into theatres with barely a roar. Loosely based on Greg Rucka's over praised but still enjoyable sojourn of murder mystery in the Antarctic, the film version ditches the work's effective minimalist approach in favor of a Hollywood-style killer thriller that frustratingly ticks all the cliches and robs the piece of any seriousness let alone suspense.
To be fair director Dominic Sena is hardly known for his subtlety. Returning after a several year absence, Sena previously delivered the Bruckheimer action vehicles "Gone in 60 Seconds" and "Swordfish", two films based on stale scripts that managed to work far better than they deserved to. Sure both had stellar casts and big budgets, but Sena's slick pacing and effective blend of humor make him a good choice to bring life to studio-approved formulaic action thrillers.
His skill is not on display here however, the lack of budget and limited surroundings giving both him and the actors very little to work with. Instead of toning things down however he ramps it up - within a minute of the film's title card popping up we have Kate Beckinsale down to her baby doll underwear before indulging in Antarctica's only hot shower. Sadly no Halle Berry-style reveal on offer here, but it sets a precedent as to both the lack of effort and lunkhead approach to come as this scene is done with far more care and consideration than any of the main storyline.
That storyline is a shambles. The original book was essentially a cut down version of the first "Prime Suspect" set in a remote location - female cop hunts murderer while facing sexism in a profession dominated by chauvinists. The sexism angle has essentially been excised while the central mystery is elaborated on and far too over explained in long bouts of clunky dialogue. The result is colder than the film's environs, a talky procedural that spends next to no time on its characters (thus robbing the mystery of...well mystery) and much of its time unnecessarily setting up things it often never carries out.
Editing is notably all over the place. There's a killer in a parka randomly emerging from snow storms to whack people with ice axes, yet there's no real rhyme or reason to his appearances short of shaking up things when it gets too quiet. The eventual explanation not only has more than a few holes, but uses both the oldest of twists and a herring so red even the color blind can't miss it.
Factors that should ramp up the suspense, from the ticking clock aspect of the oncoming winter to the harshness of the environment prove oddly incidental and certainly never lend much needed senses of urgency and danger to the proceedings. A finger amputation, one of the book's key scenes, happens here but one doesn't really care. Not helping is Beckinsale's cop character being haunted by overused flashbacks of a time when she was a proper cop who had a rough patch and wanted out.
Performances are all left wanting. Beckinsale and Tom Skerritt are both bored, the latter less effectively hiding it and delivers of one of the most lethargic performances you'll ever see on screen. The two hunks of the film - bookish choir boy Gabriel Macht and Aussie bad boy Alex O'Loughlin (using his real accent finally) are stuck with woefully underwritten parts and neither do anything to really lift the material beyond what's there. O'Loughlin in particular hams it up, but not enough to the point that you enjoy his character.
Production values are notably limited - the score is all booms and crashes to wake the audience up every few minutes, the production design screams green screen and enclosed sets even on the outside, and the cinematography makes the icy continent into a surprisingly dull looking place.
"Whiteout" isn't a disaster, its a direct-to-video film that got a release somehow. The graphic novel had an interesting concept delivered with mediocre execution, meaning the right filmmaker and crew could've really done something with it given enough effort. The film's biggest crime is that no obvious effort was made here, everything flows with the rigidity of a check list of genre cliches and safe choices. They should've kept this on the shelf.