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"White Noise" Movie Review

By

Michael Keaton White Noise

Michael Keaton stars in "White Noise"

© Universal Pictures
A movie about Electronic Voice Phenomena? It sounds interesting enough. Voices from beyond the grave come through on TV sets or radios tuned to stations that aren’t broadcasting. We’re talking about what could be some very spooky stuff here. Unfortunately, everything “White Noise” dishes out we’ve seen before. And in most cases, we’ve seen it done much, much better.

“Poltergeist” did the ‘TV turned to the fuzzy channel’ bit the best. For months after seeing “Poltergeist,” I couldn’t switch channels fast enough if I landed on a scrambled signal. In “White Noise,” that flickering mass of nothingness takes on the same sort of sinister tone. But where “Poltergeist” succeeded and this movie fails rests in how the different filmmakers have treated their audiences. “Poltergeist” balanced the scares within an attention-grabbing story populated by fleshed-out characters. The “White Noise” filmmakers assume their audience will swallow the incoherent plot and lack of character development just on the off chance they’ll be served up a few spine-tingling, adrenaline-pumping, white knuckle-inducing moments. And there are a couple such moments in "White Noise." But are audiences really that desperate for a good thriller they’ll settle for anything that might be even intermittently scary? I hope not.

Michael Keaton stars as Jonathan Rivers, a successful architect married to Anna, a best-selling author (Chandra West). Anna takes off one day to go visit a friend – and never returns. At first she’s listed as just missing, but missing soon turns to dead when her battered body washes up on a riverbank. Suffering the loss but determined to keep going, Jonathan gets on with life, going to work and caring (every other weekend or so) for his young son by his first marriage.

Things are bad for Jonathan, but not as bad as they’ll be after Raymond Price (Ian McNeice) enters his life. Seems Price has been getting messages from Anna and needs Jonathan to check them out. Skeptical at first, Jonathan quickly changes his mind and becomes immersed in the eerie world of EVP.

Let's talk about those messages. Hidden in the white noise on Jonathan's TV are messages from Anna telling him to do things, and he obeys. Why? I don’t know. If my television was telling me to do things I’m positive I would quickly smash the TV set with a baseball bat before leaving my house forever. Seeing ghosts and hearing the dead is one thing, but following orders? I don’t think so.

“White Noise” leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Why would a seemingly intelligent architect, a professional man with no history of mental illness that we’re aware of, become a fuzzy channel watching zombie so quickly? The man has friends and loved ones yet no one acts concerned this guy’s devoting 24/7 to watching blurry TV. Granted, sometimes the content of the scrambled channels is better than what’s served up on network TV. But still, it’s unbelievable none of this guy’s friends or co-workers would advise him to seek help. And there’s the whole issue of Keaton’s character popping up wherever there’s a dead body. The police don’t seem to be suspicious at all. You’d think a guy who just lost his wife under mysterious circumstances, and who just happens to be the first guy on the scene whenever someone kicks the bucket or gets seriously injured, would set off all kinds of bells and whistles around the police station. Then there’s the whole question of how otherworldly creatures interact with humans at times but are unable to at others. Scores of other questions crop up by the time the credits roll, all of them begging for answers the movie fails to provide.

My biggest complaint about “White Noise” has to do with the ending. Since discussing the ending of a movie is even worse than reading the last paragraph of a book to someone who’s barely a quarter of the way in, I’ll resist. But you can’t even imagine how much I want to talk about it. Suffice it to say what was intended to be scary turned out to be pretty darn funny. Unintentionally funny, of course.

Those voices from beyond should have told Michael Keaton to pick a different script to help launch a comeback. “White Noise” isn’t the right vehicle. It doesn’t have any substance, and Keaton’s left floundering around at the will of a disjointed script.

What could have been genuinely creepy - the whole idea of Electronic Voice Phenomena - is relegated to being just another scary movie gimmick. Resist the urge to pay good money to see this movie just because you think you might get a few good frights. Save a few bucks and rent “The Ring.” That should hold you over until something decent, and worthy of your support, hits theaters.

GRADE: C-

"White Noise" was directed by Geoffrey Sax and is rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and language.

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