by Laura Kyle
I guess Michael Keaton wasn't satisfied with the worst films of his career (Jack Frost for starters), and wanted to top them. Well, he did, and it's called White Noise and is indeed, the worst film of his career. At best, it's a "star vehicle" for Keaton, meant to carry him back into the Hollywood radar. Unfortunately, it's a fatally stalled one.I guess I should preface the following with: I Don't Believe In EVP (or electronic voice phenomenon). Why? We (being humans and all) are so darned smart, we're wired to organize various sounds and make them mean something to us. For instance, I'm almost positive sometimes that my left blinker (the right one too) is humming some kind of tune in its head that it must keep a constant beat to, and every melody, from Mary Had a Little Lamb to the Thong Song, fits into my blinker's "sixth sense" of rhythm. In other words... we hear what we want to hear. Plus, I investigated one of these EVP websites before, found an interesting audio clip of a supposedly talkative dead person, and then discovered it was only an ordinary voice recorded backwards (to sound all freaky). Also, you'll find that until a certain "message" has been suggested to a person's ear, much of the supposed EVP is clearly random interference.
"I had no idea EVP stood for Extremely Vile Poopy!"
Furthermore -- if static and mixed up waves/signals scared me, then I would break my television antennae, talk on my cell phone, or listen to the radio while under a bridge, as opposed to dishing out 8 or 9 bucks for White Noise again. And frankly, I found out the hard way that noisy static and fuzzy frequencies don't scare me. In fact, it's plain irritating. And it also takes up a majority of White Noise's running time. Snowy TV screen plus hidden images/messages no equal creepiness.
Many ideas are stolen from awesome movies like Poltergeist and Sixth Sense (is anyone making a tally of the films directly inspired by this latter film?) in the whole EVP phenomenon that dictates the "logic" of White Noise. Keaton is Jonathan Rivers, a divorced, married again father. Chandra West is his wife Anna, author and soon-to-be ghost. If it's possible to cast an actress that is too beautiful, then West in White Noise is such a case. But a viewer can't really blame this casting choice. The script is even more lifeless than the actual dead folks on the other side, who it seeks to get us interested in an freaked out by. So, the character of Anna better be good-looking, otherwise we won't care one dime if her life is cut short. Oh, and throw in the fact that she's pregnant at the time of death. And toss in some seriously sluggish, ceaselessly grieving strings in there too, just in case you're not getting that this is all quite tear-jerking.
Everybody is so smiles and rainbows in the opening of White Noise, only a diabetic could benefit from the excess of sugar, so when things take a "tragic" turn, the audience may actually crack a smile, crossing their fingers that the plot will now pick up and get to the creepy shit.
To my surprise though, each minute lasted longer and longer, as the movie progressed, which means the last minute equaled precisely 1 trillion hours (or something like that). To say White Noise is slow-moving is a huge understatement and implies there is some kind of emotional depth or intelligent, complex thematic elements replacing the usually quick-paced formula of its genre. On the contrary! White Noise was dragged, pulled, hauled, almost against its own will, to the end.
Ian McNeice plays a sort of sincere ambulance chaser, using EVP to contact the dead, and consequentially contacting the dead people's loved ones (he also helps out anyone off the street who is interested). It doesn't make much sense how the muttered words, fuzzy images, and ambiguous phrases he manages to record on tape (with his high-tech, perceptive audio and video equipment), reveal the specific identities of the ghosts, so how he tracks down Mr. Rivers, claiming to have come across Anna, is a phenomenon in itself, or more appropriately - a plot hole. Aren't those fun?
Nonetheless, Keaton's character does the expected "you're crazy" bit for a while, for the sake preserving White Noise's realism I assume (ha ha), but when the radio starts acting funky, and he gets phone calls from Anna, etc... he becomes an obsessive believer in EVP (wouldn't you?), determined to find out what his late wife is trying to say to him. But that's a difficult task, because she's bent on confusing the guy. I guess when you're a ghost, you just get bored and need to be all mysterious-like.
Deborah Unger, another stunning beauty, plays fellow EVP addict Sarah Tate, who recently lost her fiancée. Her character is really quite unecessary in White Noise, and Unger seems to have popped a few pills before filming, maybe in an attempt to come off as "depressed" or "lonely," but really she just appears to be half asleep (I could relate). And if that's not bad enough, it's as though her character only existed to take some of the pressure off of Keaton, so the plot-important lines could be distributed to more than one actor.
The same ordeal goes for Keaton's on-screen son, who just kind of fades into the background of every scene. What is he there for? I have no idea. He doesn't even have supernatural abilities like Haley Joel Osmant -- put the little kid back in pre-K, he's just wasting screen space!
But if I continue to poke holes in this ship, I may end up going down with it. What is more significant than all of this silliness, is that it seems Sax was so weighed down by what he probably observed as a sensitive beginning, he can't seem to let go of that melancholy, dramatic tone for the remainder of the film. Hey, the best thrillers out there are the ones that manage to keep their hearts beating, but Sax only achieves an annoying, unoriginal, superficial melodrama that seeks to distract viewers from the fact that White Noise isn't even remotely frightening.
I can stomach the absurd set-up, the overdone, inheritably easy "scare the moviegoer" devices, the clichéd, secondary dialogue and the forgettable characters. But when on top of this, a supposed horror movie is also dull, and doesn't make me jolt once, I pardon none of its flaws.
Nothing much happens in White Noise, except for Keaton turning up and down the volume of his "dead person tracker," occasionally coming across some distorted image or unclear series of words, occasionally doing something about it, and then being sad all the time... like all the time. Screenwriter Niall Johnson doesn't throw him a single bone, he doesn't even give him a romance with Sarah. I'm not saying Keaton doesn't do the whole "I miss my wife" deal pretty well, but even an immensely likeable actor such as himself can't sell a movie as puny as this.
Here's what I learned from White Noise. Dead people are: A. Not scary, B. Inarticulate -- they're hard to understand, and C. Ramblers -- they never get to the point and like to go on and on about nothing, repeating themselves constantly (I guess dead people are limited to three words?), so either they're really disoriented or have a weird agenda to inhibit helpful, responsive action... maybe the ones drawn to EVP are the filibusterers of the Ghost World.
Oh, and there's bad ones and good ones. And for some reason, EVP not only allows communication with the other side, but with the "future" other side as well... yeah, this is where White Noise started to lose me. And I'll be honest -- I can't really tell you how the film ties itself up in the end. For the last third of the film, I had been patiently waiting for some explanation or final revelation that would make me go "Oh, the movie didn't suck. It was just pretending to suck, so it could shock me with a really great plot twist!" when suddenly the final credits started rolling.Although White Noise is beyond comatose and is as dead as dead can be, you won't be able to contact it through EVP, because it also has absolutely nothing to say.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=11420&reviewer=369
originally posted: 01/11/05 12:23:16