Gossip. While most people wouldn't like to admit it, a juicy rumor has a certain allure--one that is often greater than that of truth. The thriller Gossip takes its promising cue from this idea, but then the film rapidly goes nowhere with it, growing more and more ridiculous with each successive turn of the plot.
Gossip's premise is simple. For a project in their journalism class, university students Derrick (James Marsden), Jones (Lena Headey), and Travis (Norman Reedus) decide to plant and then trace the growth and evolution of a rumor: that freshman Naomi (Kate Hudson), known for her strict attitudes on sex, did the dirty deed with boyfriend Beau (Joshua Jackson) while drunk at a party. While the intent in harmless, the lie quickly takes a life of its own, and soon everyone is suffering from the fallout--not least of which the trio that started the whole mess.
The initial 20 minutes of Gossip, in which the three come up with their bright idea and unleash it upon the campus, exploits the potential of the premise. Director Davis Guggenheim employs a creative and succinct way to show how the gossip spreads and mutates: numerous people directly address the camera, recounting the story as they heard it (or, rather, think they heard it). Straight-to-camera confessionals are a bit clichÃ© in the age of The Real World and its ilk, but the energized editing captures the excitement that accompanies a particularly enticing piece of hearsay.
But much like how the Naomi-Beau rumor spins out of control, so does Gossip. The interesting premise established, Guggenheim and writers Gregory Poirer and Theresa Rebeck proceed to do nothing with it. Before long, the subject that lends Gossip its title comes to bear less importance, and the film becomes a dismayingly conventional thriller where characters end up having secret paths that provide needless added motivation for certain actions. Even on these dumbed-down terms, Gossip falls far short of the mark, but that doesn't stop Guggenheim and company from also making the film a high minded "issue" movie. I won't say exactly what issue (to do so would reveal one of the film's key "twists"), but the film tackles it with a fraction of the depth you'd find in an afterschool special.
The cast certainly doesn't help the not-ready-for-the-big-screen feel. Marsden doesn't do anything here to counter the vacuous Teen Beat pinup image he projected in Disturbing Behavior; in fact, his performance here is even more embarrassing, making the credibility-straining turns his character undergoes even harder to swallow. Headey is simply miscast on a surface level. She clearly looks much older than the rest of the cast, resembling a mature woman among a group of kids; her American accent is also pretty shaky. Reedus does little to redeem what is already a bad part: an artist who inexplicably finds a new, almost obsessive inspiration in Naomi and her plight. Speaking of Naomi, Hudson is the only person who delivers a slightly credible performance. More seasoned stars, such as Sharon Lawrence, Edward James Olmos (both playing police detectives), and Eric Bogosian (as the journalism professor) are wasted.
It's only fitting that Gossip will undoubtedly fall victim to its own hook. When word-of-mouth spreads--and it will, and quite quickly at that--the film will take a much greater trouncing than the one felt by its mischief-making characters.
RATING: * 1/2 (out of *****)
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