Do you ever wonder what goes on during meetings about theatrical release dates for movies? Well, I know you don’t, but just whose idea was it to open the violent 3 hour exploitation pastiche/parody Grindhouse on Easter weekend?
“We have an opening in April; do we have anything to fill it?”
“Hmmm. Hey, I got it! When people think Easter they think Jesus and resurrection, right?”
“So, since the first section of Grindhouse, Planet Terror, is about zombies, why don’t we open it on Easter Weekend?”
“You’re thinking resurrection, zombies, Jesus. That’s just… Perfect. Maybe we can get The Passion of the Christ Church crowd to embrace it.”
Dominic Sena’s Whiteout, which had been on the shelf for 2 ½ years, seems to have been released this weekend using the same conventional wisdom. Warner Brothers had a hole in the schedule, but since it was September 11th , they didn’t want to remind anyone of the destruction of 8 years ago, and thought the public might be looking for an escape.
“Needed: Generic thriller in an exotic setting, some gore, some possible sci-fi elements, female lead, and an older male B level star to play grizzled supportive character, but willing to work cheap. No-names can fill out the rest of the cast.”
Warner did manage to find all those parts, Whiteout takes place in Antarctica, which is on the verge of being cut off for the brutal winter (think 30 Days of Night minus the vampires), there are plenty of close-ups of rather decrepit dead bodies (though the movie is noticeably scared of being too much of a gross-out), there’s the hint that the movie might turn out to either have a supernatural villain, or maybe an undead serial killer (made to look like the guy with the hook from I Know What You Did Last Summer, but with the addition of a heavy winter coat), Kate Beckinsale plays the main character, a US Marshall with a tattered past, investigating the murders, and Tom Skerritt plays the doctor (who probably replaced Donald Sutherland, based on the grey hair and beard) dealing with an isolated base of scientists and explorers from all over the globe. All of that should be plenty to distract us from September 11th, except that Whiteout opens with a hostile takeover of a plane, murders, and an eventual crash that kills everyone aboard.
But I’m giving Whiteout far too much credit, reality doesn’t invade the proceedings at all and the identity of the killer is obvious from the first ten minutes. Not that knowing the Scooby-Doo conclusion will matter (presented in the most clichéd manner possible), Whiteout doesn’t do more than faintly establish who the characters are, and it isn’t very preoccupied with living things (it’s more of a who-cares-whodunit than any other genre). Most of the money went towards some rather shoddily produced models and CGI which is supposed to give us the feeling of being in Antarctica, especially the constant blizzards and visibility problems, but all it does is remind of us another long-buried and unfinished film that Warner put out a few years ago, A Sound of Thunder, with effects that didn’t even try to hide that the actors weren’t on the streets of the future, but walking on conveyor belts.
Whiteout never convinces us we are anywhere but a studio set (which is sad because they did bother to shoot in the cold air of Quebec, though that easily could have been for the Canadian tax breaks) and you wouldn’t be blamed if your mind began to drift as the nonsensical red herrings pile up. The TV ads don’t help, they tell you nothing about the film, not that watching it will change that fact, for an hour I was pretty much in the dark too as the story skated over dead bodies, Russian military planes from the 1950s, smuggling nuclear weapons, and a mass murderer killing scientists for some eventually confused reason. When the plot begins to reveal a bit more, you’ll start to notice that all the distractions don’t make any sense and who killed who and why seems counterproductive to the overall goal, which could have been easy to hide if the villain(s) didn’t tell anyone and kept up the status quo.
Of course all these motivations might have been created in the editing room, it’s a bad sign when you see famed editor Stuart Baird’s name in the credits as he’s always a guy brought in to try to “fix” a movie in trouble. That certainly explains why the score works so hard to drum up interest and why about 90% of the dialogue is heard either off-screen, or from over a character’s shoulder, meaning it was probably re-written and re-recorded entirely in post-production*. If Baird was hired to clean up Whiteout, he did a bang-up job, because it shows no evidence of anything distinctive or different, it goes through the motions, wraps up neatly, and the music harrumphs attempts at suspense over the closing credits. While you might learn about the editing process, Whiteout is a nearly perfect example of a forgettable time-filler, the only fact that you’re likely to retain is that it appears that jellybeans are not biodegradable and they can retain freshness for at least 50 years. Good to know in case of a terrorist attack or nuclear holocaust. Oops. Sorry.
* Whiteout has the most off-screen and over the shoulder dialogue since Baby Geniuses.