White Noise

(2005) no stars Pg-13
101 min. Universal Pictures. Director: Geoffrey Sax. Cast: Michael Keaton, Chandra West, Deborah Kara Unger, Ian McNeice (II), Sarah Strange.

The plot of White Noise is a metaphor for the audience's experience of watching it. For the better part of 101 interminable minutes, Michael Keaton perks his ears and squints his eyes at speakers and monitors, trying to cut through the static and receive a clear message.

In fact, White Noise is another in the genre of static=horror flicks spawned by Japanese films like Ringu and Ju-On: The Grudge (and their American remakes). White Noise isn't a remake, nor do I expect that Japan will be putting one into production.

Keaton plays Jonathan Rivers, an architect who loses his wife in the film's opening scenes. Visited by that hoary horror archetype of the occult/scientific expert "Cassandra" (played torpidly here by Ian McNiece), Rivers eventually becomes convinced of the phenomenon of EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon), the supposed communication of the dead to the living through electronic devices.

EVP is the film's sole gimmick--ridden hard in trailers and the film's epigraphic title cards (Thomas Edison is quoted as saying, "...if we can evolve an instrument so delicate as to be affected by our personality as it survives in the next life, such an instrument, when made available, ought to record something").

Once Rivers acquires many fine Sony products and becomes a homespun paranormal investigator, Geoffrey Sax's film (scripted by Niall Johnson) runs off the rails entirely. Keaton, who's obviously above this material, struggles to make it credible, particularly when Johnson gives up on the intriguing concept of EVP, warping it to include premonitory messages from the soon-to-be dead. Deborah Kara Unger plays another haunted individual; solely by her expression, she lends the film its few genuinely unsettling moments.

White Noise completely implodes in its nonsensical climax, which at least has the shock value of something finally happening. Mostly, this plodding, lumpy excuse for a thriller sits Keaton in front of a bank of computers and lets him look and listen, which is as inherently unthrilling, incoherent, and unsatisfying as scrambled porn.

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