I saw Whiteout by myself, in a nearly empty theater, in the afternoon. My perfect film-viewing experience. I'm likely giving it a more positive review than it's getting in most forums, and that may be why.
Whiteout's main character is U.S. Marshall Carrie Stetko, played by Kate Beckinsale. That would make her the heroine (it also makes her the only woman in the film). Her first scene, for absolutely no plot-driven reason, features her stripping out of full cold weather gear and taking a shower. Not exactly an auspicious beginning.
It does get better. The beginning shower scene is very much in the same vein as Sigourney Weaver's stripping down to her underwear at the end of Alien--a single gratuitous moment for a character who is otherwise nearly completely sexless. Beckinsale spends the majority of the film in her parka. She is, after all, at the South Pole, and she's working. She's the law in these parts, and she's got murders to solve. No argument from me there--there isn't a ton of physical fighting, but Marshall Stetko does her job, puts herself at risk to keep other safe, and performs in a generally admirable way. I just wish she could have done it without the survivor flashbacks from the botched job that sent her to the South Pole in the first place. Without those moments, she'd have been cool and competent--something like Ripley, or even a bit like Frances McDormand's Marge from Fargo. With them, she's not entirely trustworthy and seems just a second away from needing rescue.
To her credit, though, Stetko never ends up having to be rescued. Though three men assist her, at various times, it's always her show. The male characters by whom she's surrounded respect her and even defer to her. She is also blessedly without either children or a romantic relationship to motivate her. In a really welcome change, Stetko is a heroine because (gasp!) that's her job. A very gender-neutral reason, I'd think. All in all, Marshall Stetko is a pretty good heroine.
On the race front, Whiteout is pretty... well, white. There is one major character of color, pilot Delfy (played by African-American actor Colombus Short). He's a good character--performs his job well, doesn't play into a lot of Black stereotypes. There is only one of him, but this movie's got a pretty small cast, so I'd give this one a pass on race, if it weren't for the Russians.
The Russians are what start it all. The film begins (before even Kate Beckinsale in her underwear) with a planeload of Russians in the 1950s, killing one another and crashing their plane over some sort of mysterious treasure. But first, they drink vodka and say "yah" a lot. Seriously, It's Boris and Natasha level ridiculous.
If I'd skipped the first five minutes or so of this film, I'd probably have given it four stars. No slapstick Russians and no Marshall Stetko stripping and I'd have been hard-pressed to find an HC flaws here. That isn't to say it's a great movie--it's got a pretty thin plot and it's a little bit boring. Given that, and those first five minutes that I did have to sit through, I'm going with three stars.
Editing on 09/17/09: As Skye suggested in the comments, I'm knocking this film down to two stars after learning (thank you Jysella!) that Sharpe was a woman in the book on which this film was based. There was just no reason to make Sharpe a man in the film. I cannot tell you how much better this movie would have been has Lily Sharpe been retained.