White Light

Director: Al Waxman                
Martin Kove, Allison Hossack, Martha Henry

A movie with Al Waxman and with saxophones blaring on the soundtrack? Must be a Canadian movie that's disguising itself as an American production. Though this time, Waxman is behind the camera to direct his Cagney and Lacey co-star in a supernatural mystery that, although nothing really significant to go out of your way for, provides enough interest to pass 90 or so minutes.

At the beginning of the movie, undercover cop Sean (Kove) finishes his lengthy self-assigned assignment working undercover as the trusted confidant for a local mobster, after unexpectedly a S.W.A.T. team bursts in, lead by cops who were doing their own separate investigation. With all the evidence he personally gathered, the evidence the other cops gathered, and believing that all the mobsters friends were gathered up, he goes home later that night believing he can put this all behind him. Arriving home, that confidence is shattered when an unidentified man across the street blasts him with a shotgun.

Things turn black....then the picture turns brighter to reveal the camera moving along a round sewer tunnel into a white light. (I never knew the journey to the afterlife is right under my street.) Sean then finds himself in a house in a country with a woman named Rachel Rutlidge, who immediately starts telling him how much she loves him. Initially confused, Sean falls for her in a matter of seconds, leading to scenes you'd expect.

Back on earth, six hours have passed, and Sean's body is taken to the morgue. Before the autopsy, the morgue attendants find a pulse, and Sean is immediately taken to the hospital to be treated. His revival causes his "spirit" to be pulled out of the dream world and back into his mortal body. He's initially bewildered and a little upset, but later that night when he rests, his dreams find him back in his "heaven". However, it is not pleasant this time, for he sees Rachel Rutlidge shot, and she dies in his arms. Subsequent nights, he keeps dreaming about her being shot and killed.

Putting all that he knows of her, and what she's told him, Sean concludes that it was no dream, and there was a real Rachel Rutlidge at one time, but she was murdered. And in a bizarre coincidence, she was connected to the case he was working on at the time - she being the plaything of the mobster. When he's released from the hospital (looking like George Michael)  he gets a sketch made of her, using the description from his dreams, and starts to search for what happened to her

Aside from a few silly parts, this premise was intriguing to me, and I was curious to how it would be concluded. Indeed, there were some twists along the way, and the pieces did seem to fall into place in the right order. However, Waxman's direction -  though nowhere terrible - lacks emotion in key scenes. It's not that he didn't know how the "feel" of the movie and the characters at each scene should be like; it's as if he did know but wasn't sure how to do it. He drives at the speed we are walking, instead of pulling us in and showing us what his vehicle will do.

And this is a problem when the climax starts to draw near. We've gathered the pieces and placed them in the right order. Viewers of the movie will understand the explanations and will know why the characters acted that way - but they won't really care one way or the other how the movie ends. It doesn't help that the climax isn't really original at all.

Throughout White Light, there were a few things that managed to always keep my interest up. One of them was Martha Henry giving an excellent performance in the small but pivotal role as Ella, a near-death researcher Sean meets at the hospital. She is cool and scientific, yet at the same time having heart enough to be skeptical yet accepting of Sean's claims of his afterlife experiences. And she happens to have an experimental near-death drug in her basement laboratory....will she agree to let Sean use it to "go back" for a few minutes? It sounds silly, but Henry's performance actually manages to make the whole thing plausible.

I also liked the fact that Sean's policemen buddies don't fall into the usual clichés when a cop in a movie makes weird requests or claims. Here, they find his doings a little....strange...but anything to help a buddy out.

It was also interesting to see a Canadian movie that didn't disguise its origins for once. We see cops with Toronto police uniforms and police cars, cars with Ontario license plates, and in one shot we even get to see the CN Tower. However, you'll never hear the words "Toronto", "Ontario", or any other (non fictional) place in Canada. I guess we still have a long way to go until we can convince Canadians and non-Canadians to watch distinctively Canadian movies. This is about as close as you get, folks.

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)

See also: Deadline, For A Few Lousy Dollars, Sunday In The Country