One of the action-thriller Whiteout's opening shots shows the kind of vast, icy landscape that can only be found at the ends of the Earth. Just so everyone knows which pole they are looking at, a caption helpfully points out that this is "Antarctica". Much less necessary is the subtitle stating that Antarctica is "the coldest, most isolated land mass on the planet". Obviously intended for people who've never looked at an atlas, the line's only real use is to indicate early on how little intelligence the film credits its audience with.
The story begins during the Cold War, as the crew of a Soviet bomber (who plan to steal its mysterious cargo) wipe each other out in a shower of gunfire. The giant plane then crash lands into the icy tundra and is at risk of being lost forever. Fast-forward a few decades and the US marshal Carrie Stetko (Kate Beckinsale) has The Worst Posting in the World - enforcing the law at a seemingly crime-free scientific base in the Antarctic. Just days before her posting is due to end, however, she discovers a body out on the ice with injuries that could not have been self-inflicted.
After hauling it back to the base, Stetko receives a distress signal from a nearby Russian outpost and flies out to investigate. On arrival, she is set upon by a masked attacker and narrowly escapes with her life. She then meets a shady UN investigator (Gabriel Macht) who has learnt that someone is trying to sell canisters discovered in the wreckage of the downed Soviet plane. The more the duo learn, the more perilous situations they find themselves in and it's soon revealed that several of their Antarctic co-workers aren't exactly whiter than white. All the while, we slowly piece together the tragedy that brought Stetko to Alaska in the first place, and continues to haunt her.
If it all sounds terribly banal, that's because it is. The film has all the hallmarks of a straight-to-DVD movie, despite having a full theatrical release last year. The direction, from Dominic Sena (Swordfish, Gone in Sixty Seconds), is mostly rather workmanlike, but at times downright shoddy - particularly the sepia-tinted flashbacks. Beckinsale makes the best of a bad script and the other performances are perfectly acceptable, particularly that of Tom Skerritt as the base's resident doctor. The visual effects are also relatively decent for a film that feels this cobbled together.
While it's obvious from the outset that Whiteout isn't going to be any good, something about it suggests that it might be saved by some entertaining gore, or a so-bad-it's-good ending. Unfortunately, neither of these things happens. The film is so dull that you find yourself desperate for something outlandish and ridiculous to occur (Soviet zombies, anyone?) but all that's left is a dirge. Whiteout ends up looking like an early episode of The X-Files, but without a fun supernatural twist or characters that are worth caring about.