It's been so long since Michael Keaton has had any kind of significant movie role, it seems almost appropriate that his new film involves messages from beyond.
Sadly, 'White Noise' doesn't provide a surefire comeback vehicle, even though it should find an audience on home video about the time the end credits finish running in theaters.
Keaton is a widower who becomes convinced that his recently and mysteriously deceased wife is trying to contact him via 'EVP' (electronic voice phenomenon), which involves communications from the dead via audio or video devices. When the stranger (Ian McNeice) who introduced him to the phenomenon turns up dead, and Keaton gets messages about people who aren't dead yet, things take an even stranger turn.
And for a while, the turns bear a mildly creepy sense of threat as the film recalls 'The Sixth Sense,' 'The Ring,' 'The Grudge' and even the Kevin Costner vehicle 'Dragonfly.' But after a while you begin to feel that director Geoffrey Sax (a British TV vet) is stalling for time, and the disappointing conclusion suggests that the filmmakers were so enamored of their creepy visual devices that they forgot they'd actually need to take them somewhere.
Keaton lends it all more credibility than it probably deserves, while the intriguing but frustratingly underused Deborah Kara Unger ('Crash,' 'The Game') has yet another role in which we get just enough of her to want more. 'White Noise' never gets as downright dopey as, say, last year's 'The Forgotten,' but its more suspenseful moments Ñ and an admirable tendency to value quiet over clatter Ñ don't stand a ghost of a chance against the vaporous conclusion.
On the other hand, if white noise isn't your thing, maybe music is. This month, the Northwest Film Center is presenting a three-film tribute to Elmer Bernstein, who passed away last year after a distinguished career as one of Hollywood's best composers (his score for Todd Haynes' 'Far From Heaven' was a beautiful career capper).
The films are:
• 'The Man With the Golden Arm,' director Otto Preminger's groundbreaking 1955 study of drug addiction, with Frank Sinatra as the junkie,6:30 p.m. Jan. 16 at the Guild Theatre. Very hard to find except in poor-quality home video versions, the film features one of the first jazz scores for a major feature, an element that dates better than the film's now somewhat tame treatment.
• 'Sweet Smell of Success,' Alexander Mackendrick's still-scathing Broadway noir, 7 p.m. Jan. 21 at the Guild. Burt Lancaster offers towering nastiness as a vicious gossip columnist, and a never-better Tony Curtis oozes weasel grease as his flunky. Bernstein's score is classic big-city brass bristling with menace.
• 'The Magnificent Seven,' a rousing, dynamic. star-powered Western from John Sturges,7 p.m. Jan. 30 in the Portland Art Museum's Whitsell Auditorium. 'Seven' has what was probably moviedom's best-known theme music until 'Jaws' came along. It's a perfect example of how far a score can take you even before the director goes to work.