"Gossip" is an intriguing idea for a movie -- part exploration into what separates news from gossip, part thriller about what happens when the two become indistinguishable.
Too bad director Davis Guggenheim didn't have enough faith in his material to let it stand more on its own. Instead, you get lots of low-angle shots, rain, throbbing soundtrack and odd lighting.
You also get three college students living in the world's most palatial loft apartment. (One of them is living off a trust fund that must equal the GNP of Switzerland.) You get a roommate who's an artist, providing an excuse to have a room decorated with all sorts of visual-arts-school paraphernalia. And you get a bunch of college types who dress as though they're preparing for a Vanity Fair shoot.
What you don't get is much attention to the story, which takes forever to get anywhere. What you also don't get is multi-dimensional characters. A few unexpected twists help propel things a little, but not nearly enough.
James Marsden, Lena Headey and Norman Reedus play college journalism students given the challenge of finding a way to explore the relationship between gossip, as promulgated by the tabloids, and news, as reported in the more traditional media. Their bright idea: Let's spread a rumor and see what happens! Of course, the rumor they spread has nothing to do with roaches in the cafeteria food or financial improprieties in the dean's office or point shaving during the big basketball games.
The brainstorm comes when rich-boy roommate Derrick (Marsden) spies self-proclaimed campus virgin Naomi (Kate Hudson) in the clinch with campus stud Beau (Joshua Jackson, playing far darker than on "Dawson's Creek"). The couple stops short of having sex (Naomi passes out, and Beau walks away), but therein lies Derrick's genius: Let's spread the rumor that they did.
The idea of destroying reputations doesn't seem to bother his roommates. Jones (Lena Headey) doesn't much like Naomi, whose father has power and money, and sullen loner Travis (Norman Reedus) uses the ruse as an excuse to cover his walls with huge photographs of Naomi's perennially pouty face.
Things turn ugly when Naomi starts believing she was date-raped, Beau gets arrested, and Jones finds out one of her roommates knows more about Naomi than he's letting on.
"Gossip" enjoys throwing out a little misdirection every once in a while, particularly as Jones begins to develop a conscience and pieces things together. And the strong young cast keeps the film from being a total waste; viewers will have fun hating Marsden's character, and Headey, who hails from the other side of the Big Pond, pulls off a perfect American accent. Disappointing, however, are Sharon Lawrence and Edward James Olmos as colorless investigators. It's hard to see what such good actors saw in such faceless roles.
It's too bad "Gossip" didn't have the courage to plumb its own depths; there's a thoughtful film lurking in this material, one that doesn't have to rely on its director's tricks and set designer's skill.
Starring James Marsden, Lena Headey and Norman Reedus
Directed by Davis Guggenheim
Released by Warner Bros.
Rated R (for sexual content, language and for brief violence)
Running time 90 minutes
Sun score * *