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Home Movies: ‘Whiteout,’ ‘Edge of Darkness’ and ‘Daybreakers’ Find Demons in Our Midst

Kate Beckinsale is rarely acknowledged 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 (2003) and its underrated sequel, Evolution (2006). She forcefully avoided becoming the star of Frank Whaley’s next snuff film in the scrappy thriller Vacancy (2007). 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 Antarctic research station and adapted from a series of graphic novels by Greg Rucka, shows little regard for logic throughout. Give screenwriters Erich and Jon Hoeber, as well as fellow fraternal duo Chad and Carey Hayes, their due: 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. She’s plowed through stories like this before, more times for better than worse.

As a sleuth, Stetko recreates crime scenes with uncanny accuracy, often based on the scantest of evidence. Yet she is almost comically inept in harm’s way: Traumatized by a former partner’s betrayal, she seems incapable of drawing her gun when she needs it. Another thing she can’t do, despite Beckinsale's solid if unexceptional performance, is find the spark to ignite this story of a buried Soviet plane whose missing cargo might explain the killing.

Neither, for that matter, can Tom Skerritt, on hand as a grizzled doc and a reminder of superior genre exercises like 1979’s Alien, in which he starred opposite Weaver. Here, silver-haired and sporting a beard scruffy enough to suggest he’s been out in the cold too long, he is an obvious suspect, but who isn’t? In a movie plotted so arbitrarily, anyone could be a killer, and playing the guessing game seems thankless.

The movie’s visual-effects team uses its South Pole setting to maximum effect, as Whiteout creates an appropriately oppressive atmosphere of violent, unrelenting blizzards with which to bedevil its team of doomed scientists. But director Dominic Sena, whose credits include 1993’s Kalifornia (good) and 1996’s Swordfish (not so good), can’t seem to find anything new under the perpetually obscured sun.

EXTRAS include a pair of instantly forgettable deleted scenes, while Blu-ray owners are treated to a 12-minute short featuring a cast and crew discussion of the frigid conditions in which Whiteout was filmed. In other words, nothing to see here.

***

Edge of Darkness

We’ve seen Mel Gibson as a righteous, world-weary crusader so many times before, one suspects he could play the role in his sleep or ours. In Martin Campbell’s Edge of Darkness, a slick but efficient remake of the 1985 BBC miniseries Campbell directed as a much younger man, Gibson inhabits Boston homicide detective Thomas Craven as one might slip into a pair of well-worn sneakers, his cold, dead stare masking a vigor seemingly renewed by his eight-year absence from the screen.

Craven witnesses his daughter’s murder – she is gunned down on his front-door steps – and assumes, erroneously, that he was the target. Thus begins the illuminating odyssey in which Gibson’s street-fighting man, his fury driven to a fever pitch, hunts for answers and discovers the truth about Emma (Bojana Novakovic), his little girl all grown up into a risk-taking activist.

Though hardly an absentee father, Craven is surprised by what he learns, and like any vigilante worth his weight in bullets, he is hell-bent on reprisal. The movie is not without a black sense of humor – as always, Gibson excels when playing tough guys whose machismo seems laughably overwrought. But it allows us a glimpse into the grimmer side of his character, and for that we are thankful. For all his silly charm, undiminished by his off-screen controversies, Gibson is most fascinating when wrestling with his demons.

Fueling his paranoia, albeit amiably, is a shady government operative played by Ray Winstone (The Departed), and it is their scenes together, gracefully dancing around the touchiest subjects, that find Edge of Darkness at its most riveting. Gibson and Winstone’s verbal sparring gives the movie the jolt it needs – two killers, seemingly on opposite sides of the fight, putting their differences to bed long enough to pick each other’s brains.

Boston-bred screenwriter William Monahan, an Oscar winner for Martin Scorsese’s Departed (2006), deftly captures the mood and rhythm of their tense but respectful exchanges. Also refreshing is Gibson’s return – he’s ferocious, even in a role so familiar – and it is on his shoulders that the well-executed Edge of Darkness rests so comfortably.

Once again, most of the EXTRAS are reserved for Blu-ray owners: six minutes of deleted scenes that work best as optional supplements, and a half-hour series of featurettes (among them, Mel’s Back, Revisiting the Edge of Darkness Miniseries and Boston as a Character) that effectively take us behind the scenes.

***


Daybreakers

Daybreakers is too apolitical to qualify as social satire, though it speaks in no uncertain terms to the dangers of exhausting the earth’s resources. As the latest entry in the vampire sweepstakes, its approach is refreshingly old-fashioned: Rather than romanticizing its bloodsuckers, as has been the trend in the Twilight movies, it sees them as bogeymen empowered. Freed from the shadows, they own the night.

It’s a familiar scenario, treated oh-so-seriously by Australian directors Michael and Peter Spierig, whose no-budget 2005 debut, Undead, was diverting enough to earn them a call-up to the bigs. This time they’ve upped the ante with expensive-looking CGI and a veteran cast featuring Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe, and the improvement is marked.

Just don’t bother trying to understand the movie's curious logic. Daybreakers creates its own mythology, and while the Spierigs respect the genre's most hallowed conventions – their vampires can neither see their shadows nor expose themselves to natural light – they introduce at least one significant new wrinkle. What is it? I’m not telling, except to say it works best the less you think about it. The same could be said for the movie, which is nicely acted, aggressively paced and a whole lot of empty-headed fun.

When it comes to EXTRAS, Lionsgate is more than generous. Bonus features here include an audio commentary courtesy of the Spierigs and makeup artist Steve Boyle, as well as two-plus hours of making-of documentaries.