White Noise has been billing itself as “the scariest movie of the year,” and I really can't argue. Since it was, in fact, the only movie to open the first week of January, White Noise also qualified as the “funniest,” “saddest” and “most erotic” film of 2005. Unfortunately, now that Racing Stripes, starring Frankie Muniz as a talking zebra, has hit theaters, White Noise has lost its footing as “scariest movie of the year.”
Not since the 1995 film The Net—an alleged “thriller” in which Sandra Bullock sat and typed for an hour-and-a-half—have I seen a film quite so unaware of how boring it is. In White Noise, former funnyman Michael Keaton stars as a grieving widower who uses the controversial practice of EVP, or “electronic voice phenomenon,” to contact his dead wife. The idea is to tune in a fuzzy radio or TV station and listen to the static in hopes of hearing voices, allegedly from the Great Beyond—although Juarez is a far likelier point of origin.
As a result of this premise, White Noise consists mostly of Michael Keaton sitting at his home stereo straining really hard to hear some spooky sounds. Was that a scary noise or just some sunspot activity? Did I hear a voice say “John, my love” or “change my glove”? It's kinda like staring at clouds—only, you know, allegedly scarier.
I hate to insult Keaton, an actor I like, but his prolonged absence from the limelight (anybody see First Daughter? Quicksand? A Shot at Glory? Jack Frost? Desperate Measures?) has not been kind. Every time Keaton screwed up his face in sincere anguish, I wanted to laugh. The guy hasn't done a funny movie in decades, and I still can't take him as a serious actor. Whatever happened to the guy from Mr. Mom? Somebody greenlight Beetlejuice 2 already!
The worst part about White Noise is that the filmmakers can't seem to agree on what kind of film they're trying to make. The film starts out as a weepy drama about love and loss. Like Kevin Costner's painful waste of time, Dragonfly, this one also tries to milk occasional scares out of a guy communicating with his beloved deceased wife. After an hour or so, the filmmakers come to their senses, realizing that a weepy guy talking to his dead wife isn't even slightly scary. (Hell, even Ghost knew to milk that premise for tears instead of screams.)
Realizing that they had better get around to scaring audiences, the filmmakers eventually throw in a ridiculous wrapup involving malevolent ghosts, possession, serial killers and all manner of unexplained nonsense. At some point, for example, EVP goes from being a method of communicating with the dead to a method of seeing glimpses of the future--a supernatural paradigm shift left conveniently unjustified. Even with all the added hoo-haw, the most fright White Noise can generate is something jumping out and going “Boo!” while the soundtrack screeches at you suddenly.
The debatable use of EVP (a staple of assorted Sci-Fi Channel “reality” shows) isn't even treated with any realism. It's portrayed as a unbelievably easy way for anyone to communicate with the dead with instant results. Seeing White Noise, you'd come away with the impression that the dead are really just a bunch of nagging pests, calling you on your cell phone, leaving messages on your answering machine and yammering away on your car radio all hours of the day and night. Of course, they never seem to leave any useful advice, preferring to give cryptic clues that only become obvious after your life is plunged into mortal peril. Thanks for the help, ya dead morons!
With its inconsistent tone, nonsensical script and patently laughable ending, White Noise does hold at least one distinction sure to outlast its “Scariest Movie of the Year” title: “Worst Movie of the Year.”
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