By Owen Gleiberman
April 21, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT
  • Movie

Gossip is an overheated soap opera thriller in which a deliberately concocted rumor spreads and mutates like a virus. But none of the poisonous innuendo is half as out of control as the movie itself. A trio of college students — club-rat lady-killer Derrick (James Marsden), bookish beauty Jones (Lena Headey), and unwashed art punk Travis (Norman Reedus) — share an upscale bohemian loft so funky it could be the latest ”Real World” set.

Fueled by boredom, too many cosmopolitans, and some vague classroom chatter about chaos theory, the three cook up an item of salacious gossip in order to see how it spreads, and what it turns into. At a party, Derrick spies Naomi (Kate Hudson), the sexy campus prude, shaking off the advances of her horny boyfriend (Joshua Jackson), who leaves her passed out on a bed. The rumor is hatched that the two slept together, and from that strand of fairly mundane tittle-tattle spins a malicious web of scandal. The twist is that some of the lies may be true.

Say this for ”Gossip”: It’s the rare movie that gets off on its own hypocrisy. The film takes its tone of lip-smacking knowingness from the hip professor (Eric Bogosian, laying on the smarm) whose moralistic lectures about the evils of idle talk can barely conceal his delight in it. The movie says, Come on, folks — we’re all gossip whores. Well, yes, but the real sin in ”Gossip” is the toxic implausibility of just about everything that happens.

It’s hard to say what’s more obnoxious: the ”too many loopholes to count” back story about why the central rumor was actually planted, the film’s fake concern for victimized women (Travis turns his bedroom into an elaborate Warholian art project devoted to Naomi’s plight), or the way the characters keep slurping down jiggers of Scotch to drown their ”pain.” Marsden has a sleazy magnetism, and Andrzej Bartkowiak’s cinematography gives the film a decadent high gloss, but ”Gossip” is mostly hot air.

  • Movie
  • R
  • 90 minutes
  • Davis Guggenheim
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