By Elias Savada | January 9, 2005

Ah. The January effect has arrived, when inferior films (i.e., not the year-end high caliber product now expanding into smaller markets) find their way onto thousands of movie screens and most of the patrons let out a collective groan. These kinds of films stink up the multiplex, and “White Noise,” the first release of the year, blasts out of the 2005 starting gate with an odorous eeeewwww, to be followed quickly by “Racing Stripes” and “Are We There Yet?” Treading on such familiar ground as “Frequency,” “Ghost,” “The Ring,” “Poltergeist” and a host of other more enjoyable supernatural thrillers of years past, British tv director Geoffrey Sax and writer Niall Johnson sink this Canadian-U.K. co-production quicker than you can say EVP—Electronic Voice Phenomenon—an alternative long distance service hyped in this film (and by numerous paranormal authorities) that allows communication between the living and the dead. I wonder if they’ve tried Vonage? Unfortunately, there is way too much static on the cinematic line to convince non-believers this is a justifiable method of contact between the physical, electronically-enabled geek world and “the other side.” The muddled script branches off into time shifting messaging as well, but the film stumbles along aimlessly pretty much from start to finish. Most of you should tune out “White Noise.”

Michael Keaton’s new starring vehicle gives the spirit world such a bad vibe that the deceased may boycott any attempt to communicate with the living world while “White Noise” is playing out its short stay. Keaton, better known for his comedy roles (“Night Shift,” “Mr. Mom,” and especially “Beetlejuice”) was more recently seen as the President of the United States in last year’s dreadful “First Daughter.” Following that impeachable film, he’s back as Jonathan Rivers, a successful architect with a beautiful, waterside, cul-de-sac home in Seattle. He lives with drop dead gorgeous wife #2, Anna (Chandra West), and son Mike (Nicholas Elia), a kid John is more prone to dump with his mother a.k.a. wife #1, Jane (Sarah Strange), than give some unqualified love and attention. Anna’s a best selling author with a new book entitled “The Eternal Wait” forthcoming. She’s newly pregnant and then missing, her rag-top VW abandoned by the river. Maybe it was the safety transportation people; she drove off earlier that morning without fastening her seat belt. Not terribly responsible for a mother-to-be. Her dead body is found five weeks later in a deserted dockyard. John mopes, meets EVP believer Raymond Price (Ian McNeice) and recent convert Sarah Tate (Deborah Kara Unger, seen to much better effect in last year’s overlooked “Stander”), and they hunt through the spiritual cosmos together. It seems the departed Anna likes sending John electronic IM’s—answering machine messages, caller IDs identifying “Anna’s cell” (battery dead, of course) as the incoming phone call, even jibberish broadcast through a cheap boom box—most occurring at exactly 2:30 AM.

Eventually John sets up his own EVP receiving station, immersing himself in oodles of gadgets, monitors, etc. He pretty much abandons his kid and job, and finally gets an urgent message from Anna. “Go now.” Now I’m sitting there wondering, here’s a really famous author, apparently someone who can put real sentences together, but all she can blurt out as a dead person, time after time, is the same cryptic phrase. Then I realize that maybe Anna was using a ghost writer and now, newly dead, finds herself unable to write as a ghost. Or maybe she needs a good editor.

Alas, there’s some evil afoot in both the physical and spirit worlds, the latter realized by three unfocused boogeymen that try to spook the audience with various fright tactics.

Obviously, we living humans are a mess at trying to chat with the dearly departed, especially when dead meanies get in the way. They throw us curve balls and we swing and miss the point. “White Noise” does seem to have a nice look and feel, courtesy of cinematographer Chris Seager (“Cold Comfort Farm”) and production designer Michael S. Bolton, who eventually drain the film’s early warm color styling as Keaton’s character spirals deeper into his obsessed and confused state. The director and writer take the brunt of the fault for just making this film too silly to be believed. Keaton needs to start being a little more selective in picking his projects if he wants to be taken seriously again.

The dead will never forgive you for wasting your time, money, and
psychic energy on it.

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