White Noise

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There is a pseudo-science called Electronic Voice Phenomenon, or EVP, that is the basis for the forgettable but mildly diverting film “White Noise.” EVP suggests that when a TV or radio is tuned to nothing but static, that is the perfect medium for dead people to communicate, whispering over the buzz for those with keen ears to hear. I can testify that it works, because I just saw Michael Keaton communicate from his dead career through the static of a movie called “White Noise.”

But I kid Mr. Mom! “White Noise” doesn’t set out to prove EVP; it requires you to believe in it already. The film’s intended eeriness isn’t over whether the voice the protagonist hears is his dead wife’s or something else altogether. That it’s his wife is given as a fact, and the eeriness is meant to come from what she’s saying, and what her husband does about it. The idea that EVP might be, I don’t know, maybe a load of crap, isn’t considered.

It still could have been an effective suspense-thriller, but as it stands, I’m not sure which parts they thought would be suspenseful or thrilling. There is very little mystery or intrigue; only vague communications from dead people.

It stars Michael Keaton as an architect named Jonathan Rivers whose wife Anna (Chandra West) disappears one night and is found dead a few weeks later. Six months pass. Still grief-stricken and off-kilter, Jonathan is contacted by a man named Raymond Price (Ian McNeice) who is an EVP practitioner and who claims to have been receiving messages from the late Anna. Jonathan listens and is immediately converted, which says more about Jonathan’s mental state than it does about Raymond’s persuasive powers.

I jotted in my notes that Raymond is an enormously fat British man whose neck hangs from his chin like a purse. I can’t figure out how to work that into my review, though, so I’m not going to mention it.

Anyway, through Raymond, Jonathan meets another mourner, Sarah Tate (Deborah Kara Unger), who has been communicating with her dead fiancé, who is probably just trying to tell her that he wants the ring back. But Jonathan surpasses Sarah for devotion, becoming intensely obsessed with contacting Anna, and following the few clues she gives him in order to save the lives of others — for you see, some dead people can apparently foretell the future.

The film reminds us that some spirits are malevolent, however, and Jonathan encounters some of those, too, primarily in the form of three shadowy figures who appear occasionally and growl spooky things. It leads the movie to a climax that doesn’t make any sense on one level and is a disappointment on another level. I do give it credit, though, for dusting off the old “Hey, I didn’t think THAT character was important, and here he is figuring heavily into the resolution!” device, which I haven’t seen in a new film in quite some time.

Written by Niall Johnson and directed by Geoffrey Sax, both Brits with experience in television, “White Noise” has Michael Keaton’s intensity and magnetism as its greatest assets and its storyline as its greatest weakness. Hearing dead people’s voices through static loses its spine-chilling power after a few minutes, and unfortunately, that’s about all the film has to offer.

C (1 hr., 41 min.; PG-13, mild profanity, one F-word, a little violence.)

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