White Noise / Dustin Rowles
Film Reviews | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()
When Michael Keaton appeared all too briefly in the otherwise insufferable Katie Holmes’ romantic disaster, First Daughter, I wondered aloud why the greatest Batman would stoop to such schmaltz; and when Keaton appeared in cinematic form for only the second time since Jack Frost, six years ago, in this weekend’s only wide release, White Noise, I was again confounded. Why would Mr. Mom — Beetle-fucking-Juice — choose to star in a sixth-rate thriller whose only possible destination could be the Hollywood dumping ground for bad movies: January?
Looking over Keaton’s last several movie choices, it finally dawned on me what had happened: he’s suffered the reverse Tarantino effect. Somehow, John Travolta left his bad-movie-karma (Look Who’s Talking, Look Who’s Talking Now) in the hands of Tarantino during the filming of Pulp Fiction, and Tarantino inexplicably handed it off to Keaton in his last decent movie role, Jackie Brown. How else to explain Keaton’s decision to star in a movie whose main selling point is the obnoxious noise your radio makes while you are changing the frequency?
The story outline — which actually never really advances past the outline stage — centers on Jonathon Rivers (Keaton), who has just lost his wife (Chandra West) in a not-so-mysterious car accident. A few weeks after her death, a morbidly obese guy (Hollywood shorthand for creepy clairvoyant) shows up to inform Jonathon that his dead wife has been talking to him over his shortwave radio of death, through something called Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP) (a phenomena the director tries to lend credence to by introducing facts, figures, and quotes about at the beginning and end of the film). Jonathon is skeptical at first, like all good horror movie protagonist, but that all changes when his dead wife starts leaving static-filled messages on his cell phone; Jonathon, of course, knows it’s his wife, because caller ID apparently can also identify the recently deceased.
Soon afterward, Jonathan and the Mr. Morbidly Obese (Ian McNiece) become fast friends, bonding over the snippets of information they receive from the folks over on “the other side,” who apparently have little better to do than fuck around in the FCC’s domain. After Jonathan’s wife gives him her white noise “shout out” from the dead, he becomes hooked; he gives up all his business appointments, spends less time with the plot’s throwaway kid, and starts spending a great deal of his life in the electronics section of Best Buy, gathering the televisions and computer screens needed to listen to dead folks prattle. The movie also features Sarah Tate (the kinda creepy Deborah Kara Unger), who is basically around to provide Jonathon with moral support, and give him someone with whom to speak his terribly scripted lines.
It’s not that White Noise is overtly silly or lame, or any less conceivable than any other Hollywood ghost story, it’s just that it’s so damn slow. For every 10 seconds of muddled white noise you have to sit through, there is another 25 minutes of listening to Claude Foisy’s “eerie” mood music playing while Keaton broods or stares at a blank television screen, probably wondering what the hell happened to his movie career. White Noise does come equipped with a fair number of frights, but only in the same way someone sneaking up from behind you in a library and screaming in your ear will make you jump; and even that is considerably less frightening if you’re not a ninny who leaps at the sound of a doorbell, like myself.
Essentially, White Noise is a television horror movie of the week — part Sixth Sense, part The Ring, and part Lacy Peterson — directed by a man who cut his teeth in TV, Englishman Geoffrey Sax. The premise of White Noise is intriguing, and Sax effectively sets the mood, mostly by dragging out each scene with quiet, dull moments, so that when something finally does happen, it’s feels remarkable in its variation. Chris Seager, who is responsible for the movie’s cinematography, steeps the entire film in deep, dark blue hues, which effectively supplements the sense of dread the audience feels having to sit through White Noise.
Nearly two-thirds of the way through, the movie does pick up some steam, as a mystery develops and people actually die, instead of just threatening to. Unfortunately, whatever momentum the film finally builds is completely dashed in the end, when the CGI ghosts finally reveal themselves to be close cousins of the lame, black creatures in Ghost. Apparently, with all that equipment needed to listen to the dead, no one bothered to use it to create decent looking apparitions, which is a shame, really, because Michael Keaton deserves better, damnit.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent company, which prefers to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to public relations. He lives in Ithaca, New York.