Whiteout could have been a silent movie. Sure there’s dialogue, but most of it barely qualifies as anything better than noise. It’s the kind of limp thriller where the characters only say obvious things. If someone walks inside an airplane they must, of course, say “it’s an airplane!” And if there’s a corpse on the ground with a big hole in its head, the first words out of anyone’s mouth will invariably be “hey that guy has a hole in his head”. Everything in Whiteout exists only on a surface level; a bitter, disappointing, irony when you consider that the film takes place in an environment where even the person standing in front of you is almost impossible to see.
It starts with an unconvincingly computer generated plane crash. For no particular reason, a group of Russians are flying over Antarctica with mysterious yet incredibly valuable cargo. Perhaps they’d confused it with the North Pole. A fight breaks out, the plane goes down, and is instantly covered in snow. Decades pass and we meet US Marshal Carrie Stetko (Kate Beckinsale), the only law officer on the entire, frozen continent. Our introduction to her includes a shower scene, in which there is no nudity, though it does contain bizarre, trick steam which cascades out of the floor in such a torrent that it looks like Kate Beckinsale is recreating the opening sequence from Quantum Leap.
In the world of Whiteout, Antarctica is populated by an endless series of research stations, each seemingly containing hundreds of people. Stetco has spent the last few years hopping between them solving minor disagreements and now, like so many movie cops before her, she’s only a few hours away from retirement. Also like every other movie cop you’ve ever seen, she’s tortured by a past assignment gone wrong. It’s an assignment which literally has nothing to do with anything going on in the film, but director Dominic Sena uses a string of flashbacks to shove it down your throat repeatedly, presumably to make absolutely certain you still don’t care.
There’s been a string of murders and Carrie, though she’d rather hop on the first plane back to the mainland, is forced to do her job and figure out what’s going on. She does this mostly by standing with her back to the door and waiting for someone to attack her. Since the murderer isn’t smart enough to toss his weapon out into the snow and simply mind his own business, this is surprisingly effective.
There’s some vague attempt both in the film and in the film’s trailers, to suggest some grand, possibly supernatural mystery behind what’s going on in Antarctica. Snow blows everywhere, visibility is limited, and literally anything could be lurking out there in the blinding white. It’s the perfect setting for something truly horrible, but that never happens. The movie promises a big twist and then never gives one. Everything is exactly what it seems and what it seems to be is a boring, poorly written movie which exists primarily to set up a single, pseudo-action scene in a blizzard.
Yet even the movie’s big blizzard battle is utterly botched. We’re told at the beginning of the film of something called a “whiteout”, the name for what occurs when a big storm blows in and everything quite literally disappears in an impenetrable curtain of white. To travel outside in these conditions, brave souls must attach themselves to guide wires which run between buildings, lest they lose their way and freeze to death or worse, get blown into oblivion. This might seem like the ideal environment for a final showdown, but in the hands of fumbling Dominic Sena it proves mostly ridiculous. Characters flail their way through the snow and we squint to see what’s going on only to discover that, as in the rest of the movie, what’s going on is pretty much nothing.