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By Elias Savada | September 21, 2009

British actress Kate Beckinsale looks great in her spanking white sport bra/skivvies, even if only for a few seconds, in “Whiteout,” the latest excursion from Dominic Sena (last represented on the big screen by 2001’s Swordfish). The movie itself isn’t as pretty.

Beckinsale, best known as the leather-clad vampire warrior Selene in the “Underworld” trilogy, appears in this lackluster adaptation by Jon Hoeber & Erich Hoeber and Chad Hayes & Carey W. Hayes (two sets of brothers, how many sets of re-writes?) of the graphic novel by Greg Rucka and Steve Leiber. She’s U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko, banished to the outskirts of the world at the Amundsen-Scott research station in fiercely cold Antarctica. It seems a Miami drug bust gone bad at the expense of her partner is why she’s the sole cop on the arctic beat – a sub-story handled poorly via multiple flashbacks.

As her two-year exile is nearing its end, a cold wrench (actually, it’s a pick ax) is thrown into the body of a geologist and soon Carrie’s investigating the frozen continent’s first homicide. And then another. Layering on the imminent arrival of the six-month winter season adds to an urgency to get out before the darkness gets in.

The murders involve a 52-year-old crash of a Russian cargo plane that is presented in the film’s opening sequence, and we’re left to figure out what was in a double-padlocked chest that caused all this to-do back in 1957. As Hollywood’s fascination with weirdly perceived (in this case, golden) anniversary issues, I suspect the writers might have wanted a 2007 setting as the film was filmed back then, before getting trailer teased at that year’s Comic-Con. A 2008 release date got pushed to September 2009. You know that’s a fairly good indication of trouble afoot. Warner Brothers obviously hoped to squeeze a poorly perceived film into an early Fall release schedule, where it might actually not do as bad as expected. (The strategy didn’t work; it grosses maybe $7 million its opening week.)

Even a lame aurora borealis can’t brighten up the dismal, perfunctory acting. Tom Skerritt, as the crusty station doctor, seems to have his acting chops chilled by the frost in the air. Other thesps not registering include Gabriel Macht (“The Spirit”) as a U.N. investigator, and Alex O’Loughlin (the vampire Nick St. John in Sci Fi Network’s short-lived “Moonlight”). The actor who best warms up to the failing (meteorological or cinematic) conditions around him is Columbus Short (“Stomp the Yard”) as Delfy, a young pilot.

The Manitoba locations do a good job subbing for the tip of the Southern Hemisphere. Cold is cold and snow is snow. String together a couple of tin can housing units, pad the ice-bound landscape with a few small planes and snow-enabled vehicles, and stir in frost-breathing actors covered in all sort of winter wraps, so, of course it’ll be believable. Although I’m not so sure about those male streakers. There’s a brood-inducing score by John Frizzell that doesn’t really enhance the perfunctory mystery.

The titular blizzard arrives just as the mystery tries to thicken in the thin climate. As good guys chase the bad, the script throws the viewer a single, tired bone of surprise, but, alas, there’s no meat on it. “Whiteout” is a colorless wasteland. There’s only one thing that could have helped cover this film up: A flashback that changed the script’s name to Wite-Out.

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