'White Noise' is a frightful bore

Published: Friday, January 7, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 7, 2005 at 12:33 a.m.
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Michael Keaton stars as Jonathan Rivers, an architect who believes his recently deceased wife is trying to communicate with him within the snow on his TV set. A mostly immobile hero, Rivers spends much of his time like a psychic couch potato, watching snow on video playbacks of his TV.

Photos from Universal Pictures
A theory has emerged in recent years from believers in the paranormal that the dead communicate with us from within electronic white noise. (That's the static from a radio that's set between stations or the "snow" on a TV set that isn't picking up a channel). There's even a fancy name for it: Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP).
EVP fuels the plot of the new Michael Keaton thriller, "White Noise."
Keaton plays a widower who is convinced he's seeing and hearing his late wife within the snow on his TV set. (Actually, EVP believers stress you can only see or hear the deceased in the recordings of the snow - the dead don't appear "live." You have to record them on audio and videotape to hear or see them. Go figure.) Anyway, as "White Noise" begins, architect Jonathan Rivers (Keaton) has just received the happy news that his wife, Anna (Chandra West), is pregnant. But then Anna fails to return after an errand, and is soon discovered drowned in nearby waters. A rumpled oddball, Raymond Price (Ian McNeice) visits the grieving Rivers and brings outlandish news that Anna has been trying to contact her husband with EVP. (Price is an EVP believer who now facilitates the process for others.) Rivers is skeptical for about a minute, which isn't nearly enough time to be believable. He almost instantly dives into the process of trying to receive EVP signals. This is the point where a little disbelief would have helped sell the movie.
A mostly immobile hero also weighs down "White Noise." Rivers spends much of his time like a psychic couch potato, watching snow on video playbacks of his TV. Occasionally he gets excited because he thinks he sees Anna or hears her voice. The tiny fragments aren't enough to convince this viewer, but they seem to hold much meaning for Rivers.
And that's when he discovers his wife isn't just saying "Hi. How ya doin'?" She's actually conveying vague warnings about a killer who's preying on women in the area - and is currently holding another young woman hostage. Finally, with about 10 minutes to go in the film, Rivers gets off his chair and swings into action, even if it's short-lived and implausible. Keaton does all he can with this material, successfully emoting the job of being in love, the grief at death and the hope for communication from the beyond.
But "White Noise" never gives skeptics a chance to enjoy the film. I also suspect even believers will be bored, because first-time feature director Geoffrey Sax lets the film languish in static (both the electronic and human inactivity variations.) A more skilled paranormal filmmaker, like M. Night Shyamalan ("The Sixth Sense"), might have more intelligently served the project. In the end you may find yourself thinking about a more practical theory of white noise: It helps you sleep.

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