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Snow Job

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars.

Kate Beckinsale may not be widely recognized as an action star whose credentials in the genre rival Sigourney Weaver’s, but she should be.

She held off wolves, vampires and assorted snarling lowlifes in Underworld and its underrated sequel, Evolution. She forcefully avoided becoming the star of a Frank Whaley snuff film in the scrappy thriller Vacancy. And early in Whiteout, long before she’s called on to tame a masked killer, she gamely hops in the shower, dutifully pandering to her male demographic.

The scene serves no other purpose, but when it comes to movies like Whiteout, that’s a minor complaint. Beckinsale’s latest chiller, set around an Antarctica research station and inspired by a series of graphic novels by Greg Rucka, shows little regard for logic throughout. Give screenwriters Erich and Jon Hoeber, as well as fellow brotherly duo Chad and Carey Hayes, their due: At least they’re consistent.

As Carrie Stetko, the federal marshal stuck at the bottom of the world and drawn into a murder investigation after a geologist turns up dead, Beckinsale delivers a workmanlike performance. (Again, she has plowed through stories like this before, more times for better than worse.) What she can’t do is find the spark to light up this tired tale of a buried Soviet plane whose mysterious missing cargo might explain the killing.

Neither, for that matter, can Tom Skerritt, on hand as a grizzled doc -- and, it must be said, as a reminder of superior genre exercises like 1979’s Alien -- or a pilot played by Quarantine’s Columbus Short. Everyone is a suspect, of course, but in a movie plotted so incoherently and, at times, arbitrarily, playing the guessing game seems pointless.

The movie’s visual-effects team uses its South Pole setting and impressively violent blizzards to maximum effect, as Whiteout creates an appropriately dismal atmosphere for its team of doomed scientists. Yet director Dominic Sena, whose credits include 1993’s Kalifornia (good) and 2001’s Swordfish (not so good), can’t seem to find his inspiration amid all the snow.