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Despite its title, "Gossip" won't be able to count on good word of mouth, for loose lips will surely sink this silly, shallow melodrama that turns upon the havoc wreaked by rumor. It's a total waste of time and the talent of such proven film craftsmen as cinematographer Andrzej Bartkowiak and composer Graeme Revell, who strive mightily to create mood and suspense not provided in Gregory Poirier and Theresa Rebeck's heavily contrived script and Davis Guggenheim's flashy direction.

The key setting is a vast, ultra-luxe high-tech loft in Toronto (but the filmmakers surely wouldn't mind if you took it to be Manhattan). It belongs to smirky rich college kid Derrick Webb (James Marsden), who shares his trendy digs with fellow students Cathy (Lena Headey) and Travis (Norman Reedus).

* * *

They have nothing to recommend them beyond youthful good looks. They seem to party most all the time, and neither they nor anyone else is shown to be so vulgar as to be actually cracking a book.

The only class they're seen attending is a communications course conducted by Eric Bogosian's gadfly professor, a character with possibilities--in another, hopefully better movie.

One day Derrick speaks up in defense of gossip, which is the trio's favorite pastime, and one night at a drunken party he spies a young man on a bed with a girl who has passed out.

They decide to spread the rumor that the couple have had sex--and pretty soon the girl (Kate Hudson) is screaming rape without any basis whatsoever. The plot cannot be said truly to thicken but rather merely to become increasingly farfetched and attenuated.

It's tough to get involved in a picture in which its principals are nasty or dumb or both, and this bleak film does nothing to advance its young stars while giving little opportunity for such established performers as Bogosian and Edward James Olmos (as a cop). Worst of all, the film merely exploits rather than develops its serious theme of the malicious rumor that leaps beyond the control of its perpetrator and threatens to backfire.

* MPAA rating: R, for sexual content, including language, and for brief violence. Times guidelines: highly inappropriate for children.


James Marsden: Derrick Webb

Lena Headey: Cathy Jones

Norman Reedus: Travis

Kate Hudson: Naomi

A Warner Bros. presentation in association with Village Roadshow Pictures and NPV Entertainment of an Outlaw production. Director Davis Guggenheim. Executive producers Joel Schumacher and Bruce Berman. Producers Jeffrey Silver, Bobby Newmyer. Screenplay by Gregory Poirier and Theresa Rebeck; from a story by Poirier. Cinematographer Andrzej Bartkowiak. Editor Jay Cassidy. Music Graeme Revell. Costumes Louise Mingenbach. Production designer David Nichols. Art director Vlasta Svoboda. Set decorators Michelle Convey, Enrico A. Campana. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.