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movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Gossip

Starring: Norman Reedus, James Marsden
Director: Davis Guggenheim
Rated: R
RunTime: 90 Minutes
Release Date: April 2000
Genres: Drama, Suspense

*Also starring: Kate Hudson, Marisa Coughlin

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

When people are not engaged in some activity that requires concentration, they talk. We're social animals, intent on exchanging information on people, things and ideas, and usually that's cool, but sometimes not. We sometimes forget the perfectly cogent adage that if you have nothing good to say about someone, don't say anything. Director David Guggenheim attempts to validate that expression by putting Gregory Poirier's story "Gossip" on the big screen, an engrossing tale adapted into a taut screenplay by Poirier himself.

The story takes place on a college campus that's not like the place I attended back in the Jurassic Age. Students live in lavish apartments decorated with drinking areas that would be the envy of bartenders at the Oak Room of the Plaza Hotel. Each co-ed is more beautiful than the next one. The guys are budding Brad Pitts and know how to put their elbows on the bar, and the young dancers could have fit right in at Studio 54. Though only one professor's class is on display, that of a communications instructor (played by acclaimed monologuist Eric Bogosian), the teacher apparently knows the names of all of the 150-odd students in his lecture hall and has the use of video equipment that puts images on a big screen in front of the group. Going to a hip school like this is not enough for some, though.

What sorts of people need more stimulation? Simply these: The college houses at least three characters who are vicious enough to spread nasty stories about the campus, so that if you're the sort who goes to the movies only if you've got someone to root for, this one is not for you. "Gossip" is about as sentimental as Roger Kumble's "Cruel Intentions" highlighting performers whose physical advantages and outward charm belie their downright mean-spiritedness.

We get an idea of the love that one of the students has for prevarication when Derrick (James Marsden), who is sharing drinks at a party with his roommates Travis (Norman Reedus) and Cathy Jones (Lena Headey), tells the bartender that Travis is the son of a famous rock musician. Soon after that Derrick has picked someone up, escorting the inebriated woman to the bathroom as she is about to throw up. Accidentally witnessing the gorgeous, fabulously wealthy but equally plastered Naomi (Kate Hudson) making out with a guy named Beau (Joshua Jackson), he spreads the falsehood that Beau had raped Naomi just after she passed out. This gossip leads to disastrous consequences for poor Beau.

Director Guggenheim takes us through the ramifications of the slander, inserting a fair degree of surprising twists to a story in which unlikely coincidences drive a preposterous plot. But never mind that. We're at the movies and we're skilled at suspending disbelief. After all, despite the implausibilities, this picture has quite a bit going for it including handsome young actors, a college campus at which high school seniors would kill to study, at least one flamboyant professor who fashions a splendid object lesson for his Communications class, and a whole scenario that the targeted twenty- something audience can latch onto. As an actor, Marsden doesn't have the charisma needed for a guy who sets his campus on fire. But Reedus is a natural as the money- challenged dude dependent on the kindness of his rich friend, and Headey comes across with enough intensity to juggle her coexistence and conflicts with two male roommates. In a small role, Edward James Olmos is effective as a detective who never cracks a smile and who could scare even a classroom of overactive junior high kids enough to be able to teach them something.

A movie like this is like "The Insider." After you've seen what Jeffrey Wigand goes through in Michael Mann's 1999 film--the odious lies of the seven tobacco giants out to smear him and the not-so-hidden message that smoking is bad-- you probably convince yourself to quit your own habit. What do you do as soon as you leave the theater? Right. You light up. Same here. You watch as the consequences of malicious gossip taking hold, the knot twisting gradually and inevitably around the necks of the perpetrators, and you're sure you will never again spread spiteful rumors. Until tomorrow.

(C) 2000 by Harvey Karten,

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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