While White Noise--a film about a man obsessed with contacting his dead wife--starts out promisingly spooky, it unfortunately ends up mired in derivative muck.
Successful architect Jonathan Rivers' (Michael Keaton) peaceful existence is shattered by the unexplained disappearance and death of his wife, Anna (Chandra West). But that's not the worst of it. Jonathan is then contacted by a man who claims to receive messages from Anna through Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP), a form of clairvoyance in which the dead can communicate through such electronic devices as radio, television and computers. Well, that's just plain crazy talk! Not to Jonathan, who is soon convinced EVP is the real deal. He becomes obsessed with it, setting up his own EVP den of snowy, white noise-filled televisions, computer screens and recording devices in hopes of hearing from his beloved. Problem is--and it's a rather major problem--the further he probes into this paranormal activity, the more he opens himself up to hearing from all the dearly departed, some of whom aren't so dear. In fact, there are more than a few on the ''other side'' who are downright psychotic, and none too happy about being meddled with. They're heeeeeeere!
Just where the heck has Michael Keaton been? Although he turned in a powerhouse performance in HBO's Live From Baghdad in 2002, the actor has been out of the movie limelight for quite sometime, save for a brief and wasted appearance as the President of the United States in last year's tepid First Daughter. White Noise regrettably doesn't do the talented actor any justice, either, but at least he's back in the driver's seat. To his credit, Keaton is convincing as the bereft Jonathan, grasping at whatever he can to ease the pain, but he has a tougher time once the film veers off into Poltergeist territory. In the supporting roles, Deborah Kara Unger also does a nice turn as Sarah, a kindred spirit who finds closure after contacting her dead fiancé but whose life is in danger once she gets wrapped up in Jonathan's obsession. But the most dead-on (pun intended) line comes from Jonathan's young son, Mike (Nicholas Elia), who asks, ''Are you going to be all right, daddy?'' From the mouths of babes
EVP is a bonafide practice. There are people and organizations all over the world devoted to this little-known but growing paranormal activity. Now, whether you believe in EVP or not, the idea of it is still very fascinating and one could see how making a film about it could be chillingly entertaining. Unfortunately, however, screenwriter Niall Johnson and BBC-TV director Geoffrey Sax, in his feature film debut, muck it up and turn White Noise into a contrived, muddled mess. Perhaps if the film concentrated on the Poltergeist-meets-Ghost aspect, as Jonathan gives into his obsession and lets the nasty entities take over, it could have worked. But like the dreadful 2002 Dragonfly, in which a man is sent on a rescue mission directed by communications from his dead wife, White Noise takes a sudden shift as Jonathan's wife guides him to hunt down a serial killer. This tacked-on, hackneyed plot point, obviously devised to heighten the suspense, only brings the film down. Even White Noise's look is unoriginal, with its very antiseptic, water-dripping and cold-concrete sets. Been there, done that.
White Noise is certainly an intriguing concept--you may find yourself listening more intently to static from now on. But ultimately the trite film fails to deliver the necessary thrills and chills it so desperately wants us to experience.