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Snow job




Whiteout (R)

Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown

Working stiffs, how many times has this happened to you? It's been one of those brutalizing days — the kind that's worse for being so boring — and somehow, just as your tedious shift is ending, the boss calls and reminds you that today's the day you have to mop after locking up. Or e-mails with, "Need your comments on this 98-page memo by morning." Or something. It's always something. And before you know it, days like this turn into weeks like this, which turn into months, and maybe even years.

The movies want to sympathize, but their tendency to exaggerate the problem only makes it worse. To take a current example, think of a poor U.S. marshal stationed in Antarctica about to get on the last plane back to civilization when a frozen mangled corpse arrives to imply that murder is afoot.

One way or another, it happens to us all. For film critics, it's that moment when the lights come up after an hour and a half of mediocrity and any sense of relief is swiftly crushed by an inner voice saying, "Now I have to write about this."

Readers of the Whiteout comic, by writer Greg Rucka and artist Steve Lieber, will know marshal Carrie Stetko to be a stocky, not entirely glamorous woman. Perhaps they will also know, from the precedent of Frances McDormand as Police Chief Marge Gunderson in Fargo, that the sight of such a woman lumbering through snowy hinterlands solving crimes has a distinctly cinematic appeal.

But they also will deduce — from the preposterously protracted moment early on when Kate Beckinsale peels off her parka, peels off her sweater, peels off her tank top and pants, slowly bends over to turn on the shower, and peels off her bra — that the Carrie Stetko of the Whiteout movie is rather a different type of woman.

As for the Whiteout comic's other female character, director Dominic Sena and writers Jon and Erich Hoeber and Chad and Carey Hayes have turned her into a man, portrayed with perfunctory intensity by the chiseled, deep-voiced actor Gabriel Macht. But at least the Whiteout movie also has Tom Skerritt. "Always a dull moment!" he perceptively quips. He is paternal, charming. Conspicuously so. You can't help but suspect that he's either going to die or get up to no good.

With John Frizzell's score constantly and strenuously suggesting an appropriate mood for any given moment, clichés signal their arrival from roughly a mile away, then slowly approach, then play out, then get explained. Whiteout is a movie in which a character might be seen in a flashback, killing someone, and then say, "I killed him," or holding an armful of kittens, about which someone else will say, "They're kittens." (Here I've substituted "kittens" for the actual item, because mentioning the actual item would be a spoiler. I was going to substitute "jellybeans," but then it occurred to me that there is a scene in which jellybeans do indeed appear, and somebody does indeed explain that they are jellybeans.)

This exposition carries over into the screen-text captions that kick off key sequences, providing not just the name of a given ice-station locale but also its latitude, longitude, air temperature and wind speed. Really, it's too much trouble; one strategically timed "Antarctica, Really Fucking Cold" would have covered everything nicely.

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Director: Dominic Sena

Writer: Erich Hoeber and Jon Hoeber

Producer: Susan Downey and Joel Silver

Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Gabriel Macht, Columbus Short, Alex O'Loughlin, Shawn Doyle, Tom Skerritt, Nicolas Wright, Patrick Sabongui, Sean Tucker and Paula Jean Hixson

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