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Less than the sum of its parts
By Wendy McElroy
** out of ****
While the movie White Noise is billed as a suspense thriller with a story written for the big screen, it also purports to feature a real meethod of communication between our world and the one inhabited by the departed. Termed Electronic Voice Phenomenon, or EVP, these communications manifest themselves in the white noise of an untuned radio or TV. Whether or not the phenomenon represents messages from the dead in te real world is subject to question (there are, believe it or not, groups formed specifically to study the phenomenon, the largest of which may be the American Association of Electronic Voice Phenomenon). The movie uses its poetic license to assume that EVP is exactly what it is purported to be: a way for those who have died to send messages back to those of us still living.
Jonathan and Anna Rivers (Michael Keaton and Chandra West) are happily married and successful in their careers. He's an architect; she's a well known author. But even into such perfect lives, tragedy can fall, and it happens to the Rivers one night when Anna dies in a bizarre accident. Jonathan finds it almost impossible to go on without the woman he still loves, but his depression turns to anger when he realizes he's being followed by a man named Raymond Price (Ian McNiece). When Jonathan confronts Raymond, he's told to call if he'd like to hear from Anna again.
Obviously, Jonathn can't resist such a lure. He meets Raymond and learns about EVP; it's not long before he's hooked on the audio and video tapes Price provides. Jonathan also meets Sarah Tate (Deborah Kara Unger) -- a young woman who has suffered a recent loss of her own -- through Raymond, and the two compare notes. Soon, and with help from Sarah, Jonathan is himself obsessed with the world he discovers in the white noise from his television or radio. But just as Jonathan begins to realize that not all of those wishing to make contact are good, he learns that there's evil right there in the real world with him as well.
Michael Keaton has always been a relatively capable actor, and he does a good job here. The supporting cast is also quite good, particularly Deborah Kara Unger. The script, too, isn't bad. The problem is that the script isn't great, either. Jonathan, who's an intelligent and well-educated man, is converted over to belief in EVP literally immediately. That simply doesn't ring true. Jonathan's son, who plays a small but significant role in the early part of the movie, seems unnaturally shoehorned into later scenes. The scary parts of the film just aren't that scary -- the few jumps seem almost contrived solely for the purpose of making the audience jump. And the suspense is too brief in too many instances to really build to the heights it should have reached.
The production values are very good and the story idea is more than a little intriguing. The edits are superlative, and there is some terrific camera work. But that's not enough to take a mediocre script and turn it into anything better than an adequate movie. And adequate, I'm afraid, is just about where White Noise falls on the scale. That's really too bad. White Noise had the potential to match The Ring for scary, and it didn't even come close. (As an aside, there was the lengthiest trailer I've seen yet for The Ring 2 just before White Noise began, and I'll tell you what: If the movie is half as good as the trailer, it's going to be at least as good as the original film.)
POLITICAL NOTES: Although there's nothing overtly political in the movie, I found myself immediately likening the main characters to ordinary American voters. Although there's plenty for them to be skeptical about, they hear what they want to hear, and they believe what they most desperately want to be true. I'm not even going to go into the resemblence between the average political speech and just plain white noise...
FAMILY SUITABILITY: White Noise is rated PG-13 for "violence, disturbing images, [and] language." Although I didn't find this movie particularly scary, a small child would. Teenagers would be okay with the "disturbing inages," but I'm not sure they'd like the movie (the several teenagers sitting near me chatted through much of the film, and a few more who were seated further up made some unflattering comments after the move was over). White Noise is interesting from the standpoint of EVP and it has its moments. But those moments may do little more than show you the promise the movie had, which makes the end result that much more disappointing.
Lady Liberty is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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