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Kate Beckinsale has to be one of the most schizoid actors working. She careens from arty dramas like “Snow Angels” to schlock like the “Underworld” vampire series. Her latest, “Whiteout,” finds her on another slumming expedition.
Even a bad thriller can be entertaining, and this gory murder mystery set in Antarctica has a certain dumb fascination — up to a point. Then it is defeated by its sheer idiocy. The advertising will draw the core audience to the opening weekend. A huge drop-off awaits.
A prologue shows a Russian plane crashing at the South Pole in 1957. Fifty years later, Beckinsale’s Carrie Stetko is a U.S. marshal stationed there at a scientific research base. When a body is discovered out in the snow, she has to solve the case — before the entire base is evacuated because of a severe winter storm. Of course, that buried Russian aircraft has something to do with the increasingly grisly series of murders. To add to the backstory, Carrie is still recovering from the psychic scars of a botched mission she survived years earlier in Miami.
The picture is based on a graphic novel by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber, and the script was written by two sets of brothers: Jon and Erich Hoeber and Chad and Carey W. Hayes. All these scribes have disgorged a heap of nonsense with laughable dialogue (“Doc, this wasn’t an accident!”). Director Dominic Sena (“Swordfish”) favors the flashy style of music videos — lots of handheld shots and rapid-fire editing of images that never quite come into focus. A headache is guaranteed. The cinematography by Chris Soos takes advantage of the white-on-white locales (filmed in Manitoba and Quebec), and the eerie music by John Frizzell provides the frissons of suspense missing from the writing and direction.
Beckinsale can be a fine actress in some films, but her earnestness is ludicrous in a potboiler like this one. The handsome Gabriel Macht is the U.N. observer (don’t ask) who might be a romantic interest for Carrie or a villain. Tom Skerritt lends his grandfatherly presence to the poorly conceived role of Doc. Most of the other actors have little to do except to fight off a knife-wielding maniac. The predictable denouement will leave viewers in a sour mood.
Bottom line: Stupefying journey to the bottom of the earth.
Opens: Friday, Sept. 11 (Warner Bros.)
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