Kate Beckinsale, adrift in a blizzard of cliches, doesn't have enough star presence or her Stevie Nicks black leather vampire drag to
keep audiences from drifting away
9-11-09 "Knight Thoughts" web exclusive
By Richard Knight, Jr.
The temperature is 55 degrees below in Antarctica and it’s only going to get colder as winter sets in. Brrrrrrrr. But after stepping
inside her comfy cruise ship-sized quarters away from all that cold U.S. Marshall Carrie Stetko (Kate Beckinsale) doesn’t hesitate in
stripping down to her panties so the audience can get a good look at her (shades of Sigourney Weaver in Alien) before stepping into
a hot steamy shower for further audience titillation.
We’re less than five minutes into Whiteout, the latest film from also ran action director Dominic Sera (Gone in Sixty Seconds,
Swordfish, and several Janet Jackson videos) and already he’s playing to the panting teenage fanboys. But the promise of a
variation on The Thing or a myriad of other frozen tundra sci-fi pictures gets the pandering a momentary pass. But as soon as it
becomes clear that the movie doesn’t have a murderous alien creature (trapped in the ice for time immemorial and freed by
blundering scientists) raging and picking off the vulnerable humans inside their claustrophobic confines one by one as the icy
weather rages without I began to freeze up.
Even after it became obvious in the proceeding scenes that Whiteout was a murder mystery and not sci-fi, one stayed with the
movie. The gorgeous scenery (the film's producers could easily resell much of the footage to the National Geographic Society), the
tempting set up, the always welcome Tom Skerritt (another nod to Alien) and a bevy of cute male hunk supporting players (including
Alex O’Loughlin who is shown stripped to the waist for no other reason than apparently to please his large coterie of female and gay
fans) kept ones hopes up.
But soon the plot, dialogue and acting descended into not much more than a big budget episode of CSI. Bland and predictable, the
movie also had the irritating habit of repeating the same mistake over and over again. We are shown – pretty vividly – how
punishing and unforgiving the Antarctica cold can be to fragile human flesh exposed to its grip and especially one of its deadly
whiteouts. But that doesn’t stop Sera (working with a by the numbers script) from staging several outdoor action sequences in the
frozen environment with only the killer – who chases Beckinsale brandishing an ice pick – having the good sense to wear a face
protector. None of the other characters who spend plenty of face time outside in this punishing winter wonderland – especially our
comely, spunky heroine – ever covers their delicate facial skin or suffers any ill effects like, say severe frostbite, though we are
continually shown the temperature dropping, a whopper of a storm approaching. It's a big gaffe amongst many.
So, as the plot elements clicked into place almost by rote and the Marshall raced against the clock, I found myself with plenty of
time to sit back and think about why pretty Kate Beckinsale with her impeccable American accent, delicate features framed by dark
hair, has never really registered for me onscreen. Well, maybe in Van Helsing where she played a Romanian gypsy variation
(complete with bodice, dagger in her boots and over the top “tick awk-scent” ala “Boris & Natasha”) but really, since Cold Comfort
Farm and The Last Days of Disco, can anyone other than those aforesaid panting teenage fanboy differentiate between all those
vampire fighter action flicks she stars in and her other movies? Have there been others?
Oh wait – there was Nothing But the Truth – that little political roman á clef of the Valerie Plame/CIA outing scandal she did last year
with Vera Farmiga that was highly touted but sank like a stone and that David Gordon Green indie Snow Angels where she played an
emotionally damaged character without a lot of makeup. I remember the performances as being good but nothing resonated in
Beckinsale isn’t bad or filled with acting tics – something that would at least separate her from the pack and she’s not a bewitching
enough beauty for the camera to forgive inexperience or bad acting either. What she needs is a career changing movie like Monster,
the film that altered Charlize Theron onscreen for audiences. Before Monster Theron was just another interchangeable Hollywood
blonde whose fate was quickly headed in a Veronica Lake southerly direction. After, she’s, well Charlize Theron, actress and movie
star – a most potent combination.
For Beckinsale, for now, it takes something as vivid as black leather, the outfit of choice in the vampire pictures to keep her in the
mind of audiences (if at all). Maybe a memorable role or another memorable outfit will come along, with luck or fortitude. But in
Whiteout, not wearing the S&M drag or having anything original to play, she quickly disappeared into the whooshing winds along with
the movie, even before the last minute plot reverses kicked in and the audience shuffled out, as if on imaginary snow shoes.
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