Whiteout


Kate Beckinsale

This is Kate Beckinsale looking concerned. Later, she'll look perplexed.

(Warner Brothers) Kate Beckinsale, Gabriel Macht, Columbus Short, Tom Skerritt, Alex O’Laughlin, Shawn Doyle, Joel Keller, Jesse Todd, Arthur Holden, Erin Hickock. Directed by Dominic Sena

In space, no one can hear you scream; by the same token, at the South Pole, nobody can see a maniac coming either. At least, not in this movie.

It all starts with a plane full of Soviet Russians circa 1955 transporting a mysterious box over the South Pole to God knows where (Ummm…not to make too fine a point of it, but isn’t the USSR closer to the North Pole? Just asking…) when a gunfight breaks out on the transport plane. As anyone who knows airplanes can tell you, a gunfight on an airplane in midflight is usually a very bad idea. This scene would bear that out – so remember the next time you feel the urge to shoot someone on a plane, no matter how irritating they are.

Fifty years later another body turns up, and like the Russians, this one was killed on purpose but nobody knows who it was or what the body was doing all the way to Hell and gone. U.S. Marshall Carrie Stetko (Beckinsale) has maybe the cushiest and worst job in the U.S. Marshall service – the most she ever has to deal with are a couple of geologists arguing about whose theory about igneous rocks is more accurate. Now, she has to deal with a murder – and only two days to solve it before the researchers fly north for the winter.

She will be aided by the wise, kindly Dr. Fury (Skerritt) who has nothing to do with Nick Fury other than they both originated in comic books, an FBI agent (Macht) who shows up conveniently, a wisecracking pilot (Short) and umm…other guys. As other bodies start turning up and an investigation of the original crime scene turns up that Russian transport plane from the prologue, it appears that the murders have something to do with whatever was in that mysterious box. What was so valuable that people would be killing for it fifty years later? The Ark of the Covenant maybe?

The movie started out life as a tautly written graphic novel that was way more suspenseful than this mess. The fact that it was shelved for nearly a decade before it was made, then sat on the studio shelf an additional two years after it was made should have told you something; well, obviously you took it to heart because this bombed at the box office in a hailstorm of negative reviews.

Part of the movie’s problem is endemic to the location, which is ironically one of the things that sets this movie apart from other thrillers. The whiteout conditions at the conclusion of the movie make it nearly impossible to tell who’s fighting who, or see what the characters are doing. I’ve seen plenty of movies so underlit that you can’t make out what’s going on; here, the action is obscured in a blizzard of studio snow.

The other problem is that much of the tension that made the graphic novel so enjoyable is largely missing here. Beckinsale, who can be a strong actress when given the right material (see Snow Angels), has been given absolutely nothing to work with here. Oh, there’s a backstory about a near-death experience while working for the Marshall Service in Miami that Haunts our Heroine Even Now, but largely she is given no personality and spends most of the movie looking perplexed, surprised, bundled up beyond recognition in fur jackets or stripping down for a gratuitous shower.

Likewise, most of the other characters are given no personalities and all kind of blend together with the exception of Skerritt’s Doc Fury who comes off a bit like a skinny Wilford Brimley. As such, you’re given no reason to care a whit about any of them, even after the maniac with the pickaxe comes calling.

There were four writers credited with the screenplay, which makes for patchwork screenwriting. This was a difficult graphic novel to translate to the motion picture medium at best for the reasons outlined above, but it basically had no chance with so many fingers in its pie. Hopefully, the studios and producer Joel Silver will have learned a lesson; avoid action sequences in a snowstorm and focus on character development if you want the suspense to really go off the scale and in the future, try to inject a little suspense into a suspense movie.

WHY RENT THIS: Kate Beckinsale is a beautiful woman.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Not a lot of suspense and quite frankly some of the action is hard to see.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of violence but not to excess, some rather grisly images and a bit of nudity. Probably not for the kids, unless they’re crazy mature.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Lake Manitoba exterior location was occasionally colder than the South Pole it was doubling for.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Expendables

Did You Hear About the Morgans?


Did You Hear About the Morgans?

Sarah Jessica Parker takes aim at the screenwriter while Hugh Grant nervously checks for witnesses.

(Columbia) Hugh Grant, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sam Elliott, Mary Steenburgen, Elisabeth Moss, Jesse Liebman, Michael Kelly, Wilford Brimley, Gracie Bea Lawrence, Kim Shaw, David Call, Seth Gilliam, Sandor Tecsy, Steven Boyer, Sharon Wilkins. Directed by Marc Lawrence

A relationship depends on trust in order to work. However, once the trust is gone, can a relationship still exist or is it doomed to fail?

The relationship between Manhattan lawyer Paul Morgan (Grant) and his wife, successful boutique realtor Meryl Morgan (Parker) is in crisis. They have been trying to have a baby without any success and now Paul’s infidelity has caused the couple to separate. Paul really wants to get back together again with his wife, but she can’t get past her own feeling of betrayal. Hey, it speaks volumes that in order for the couple to even plan dinner together, they have to resort to having their personal assistants – overbearing Jackie (Moss) and cojones-challenged Adam (Liebman) rework their schedules just so they can align their schedules.

The dinner goes surprisingly well and Meryl allows Paul to walk her around the corner to a late showing for a new client. However, in a bit of a buzzkill, the new client is murdered before their eyes. As luck would happen, it turns out the client was co-operating with the FBI in a case against an international arms dealer who had hired a professional hitman to do the job. Now the assassin knows who the Morgans are, so U.S. Marshall Lasky (Gilliam) puts the quarreling couple in a witness relocation program.

Meryl is aghast. Not only is she leaving behind her beloved New York and her booming business but they are being sent to Ray, Wyoming, a flyspeck of a town in the middle of the Rockies. They will be cared for by the town sheriff, Clay Wheeler (Elliott) and his gun-totin’ wife Emma (Steenburgen) who are also employed by the U.S. Marshall service for the purpose of witness relocation because their location is so remote.

Paul is a bit upset because he has a thing about bears, which virtually guarantees he is going to encounter one in a movie like this. Meryl is a bit upset because she has no cell phone, blackberry or internet, which means she is going to find a phone which will lead the killer right to them. Both are bemused by the big rodeo celebration complete with (and this we are told emphatically) bull riding, which means that the two of them will wind up in the ring with the bull. And, sure as shootin’, the two city slickers are going to be inspired by them kindly western sorts into getting back together. Ain’t love grand?

Director Marc Lawrence has written, directed and occasionally produced some nifty romantic comedies, such as Music and Lyrics but this won’t be remembered as one of his better movies. The script is a bit light on the laughs, which is not good news for a comedy. It is also incredibly predictable and you sit in the darkness of the theater, praying to whatever being you worship for some kind of swerve, anything. Sorry chum; your prayers won’t be answered.

I normally like Hugh Grant a lot, which is why I wanted to see this in the first place (Da Queen, who reacts to Sarah Jessica Parker much in the same way a dog reacts to a police siren, was much less eager). However, he has little to do but furrow his brow (which he does to the point you think his nose is going to pop right off his face), look dreadfully uncomfortable and generally apologize repeatedly to the point where you want Liz Hurley to walk onscreen and slam him over the head with a cast iron skillet and say with a smirk “apology accepted – now shut up!” Come to think of it, Hurley would have been a much better casting choice here.

The sad thing is that some great actors are wasted. Sam Elliott, the quintessence of the American western tough guy, is placed in the awkward position of acting as a marriage counselor to the Morgans. I really felt for the guy; he’s due a really good role right about now and quite frankly, he hasn’t gotten one. Steenburgen is one of my favorite actresses from the 80s and 90s and is still gorgeous to my eye; she’s also warm and charming. Here, she channels Sarah Palin quite nicely (as the script leadenly points out in a line that might have been funny if uttered at a better moment) and gamely gives her all in a poorly written role.

While this is a good looking movie (the rugged western vistas of the Wyoming mountain country and the star-filled night sky contrast with the lights and concrete canyons of Manhattan), I found little that grabbed my attention. At the public screening I attended, there was almost no laughing and little more than the occasional sounds of popcorn being munched and soda being slurped. I have rarely heard an audience so quiet in my entire career.

The filmmakers try to make this funny but they only succeed in making it awkward, with terrible silences filling the movie. The effect is similar to having invited guests get into a shouting match while staying over. I really wanted to like this movie but unfortunately for everyone involved, I simply cannot recommend it. If you’re in the mood for a romantic comedy, you’d do much better with It’s Complicated or having seen that, waiting for When in Rome, Leap Year and Valentine’s Day, all of which are coming down the pike in the next few months.

REASONS TO GO: Some pretty views of the Wyoming mountain country.

REASONS TO STAY: The script is decidedly unfunny, and so very predictable. The actors all look uncomfortable, confused and undirected. Adds nothing to contrived fish-out-of-water premise.

FAMILY VALUES: Some violence and sexual situations and a scene of smoking but otherwise harmless.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Gracie Bea Lawrence, who plays “American Idol”-wannabe Lucy, is director Marc Lawrence’s daughter.

HOME OR THEATER: You could be forgiven for waiting until it comes out on free cable, although some of the vistas in Big Sky country are worth seeing on the big screen.

FINAL RATING: 3/10

TOMORROW: It’s Complicated