Film — White Noise (PG-13)

White Noise (PG-13)

by Amy Diaz

Michael Keaton gets really into static in the not-tremendously-suspenseful suspense/ghost story White Noise.

You know how some people really get into, say, eBay? They look for particularly good finds and try to auction off their stuff and get all into the psychology of the bidding and buy special equipment to facilitate all this buying and selling? You know how these people are crashing bores at parties and how you will always try very hard not to get stuck next to them?

Michael Keaton’s character, a widower named Jonathan Rivers, is essentially one of these guys. Except that, instead of selling off old concert t-shirts and a baseball-card collection, he uses all his computers to listen to the hisses and pops of static in search of messages from the great beyond, one of which he hopes will be from his dead wife Anna. (Chandra West).

See, the thinking is that the dead use untuned electronic equipment to make calls to their friends and relatives still among the living. Except that, unlike the hazy precision of an episode of Crossing Over, the dead in White Noise share a party line. So, though he seeks a word or two from the dead Anna, Jonathan also gets a few notes from a stranger’s dead grandmother and a not-yet-dead young woman who is about to be electrocuted along with her baby. Huh, he thinks, maybe the nutty Brit (Ian McNeice) who introduced him to electronic-voice phenomena didn’t give him quite all the information he needed.

The shadowy figures of three men and the occasional bursts of profanity over this inter-dimensional communication link lead Jonathan to think that it’s not all dead celebrities and guilt-free desserts in heaven — there may be a darker side to life after death, or at least to chatting with the residents of the great beyond.

You know, within the bounds of a horror movie, you’ll believe almost anything. Sure, the dead talk on unclaimed radio frequencies. Sure, their pictures will appear on untuned television sets. Sure, people still own television sets with rabbit ears. I’ll believe whatever basic idea you need to get your ghostly tale up and running. Eventually, however, that story has to go somewhere, anywhere with that idea.

In White Noise, all the talking-to-dead-people goes nowhere, really, and this is after the movie starts off in at least three different (but ultimately unexamined) plot directions. Is Anna trying to give Jonathan some deeply important personal message? Is she trying to solve her own death? Is she trying to help him fight crime?

That last possibility would be the best because what’s better than a buddy-detective show where one of the detectives is the dead wife of the other? Think of the possibilities — she could show him clues and he’d be all “what is that, a tree? A house? This isn’t Pictionary, woman, just tell me where the crime is.” And then she’d make his coffee cup crack, spilling coffee on his pants (yes, in my version she’s also telekinetic, because that would open the door for countless slapstick possibilities). Or, she could meet someone on the Other Side and there could be this whole dating subplot, where he then tries to get a girlfriend to make her jealous and they discuss (via fuzzy pictures and hard-to-make-out phrases, which is the way the dead communicate in White Noise) whether they are still married or whether “until death do you part” allows them to start dating other people even if they can still talk to each other.

Yes, a hammy Moonlighting-esque tale of mystery and romance would be far more interesting than the jumbly half-baked story of White Noise.

- Amy Diaz

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