Rife with more and better twists than a teen-targeted psychological thriller deserves, "Gossip" is a dark and borderline-tantalizing popcorn flick about a trio of sociology majors whose experiment manipulating the campus rumor mill runs amok into rape and murder charges.
Our three muckrakers are rich pretty boy Derrick (James Marsden), bookishly sexy Jones (Lena Headey) and scruffy struggling artist Travis (Norman Reedus), who all live together in Derrick's uber-industrial, million-dollar, warehouse district loft.
Their little project -- ostensibly groundwork for a paper in an introspective sociology class taught by the subversive Eric Bogosian ("Talk Radio") -- begins as an admittedly mean-spirited test of how rumors grow and mutate. After seeing a reputedly virginal rich girl (Kate Hudson) pass out at a party while necking with her boyfriend (Joshua Jackson), they plant the story that the two had sex in an upstairs bedroom.
Within a day the buzz has turned vicious, begetting rampant hearsay about the girl's supposed multiple-partner bash and her secret penchant for leather underwear. Soon the stories spiraled into something even uglier: The boyfriend is said to have raped her. Beginning to believe it herself -- she was passed out and convinces herself he'd taken advantage -- Hudson files charges. The experiment has become a nightmare.
Strangely, Jones seems to be the only member of the threesome terribly concerned about this turn of events. Before long things take another turn for the worse and murder investigators are knocking on their door.
Jones emerges as the guilt-riddled heroine, beginning to suspect enigmatic ulterior motives in her roommates' rumor-mongering. The winsome, charismatic Headey (a lithe Brit with a background in period dramas like "Onegin") turns her into the only appealing character in a cast of utterly self-absorbed mannequins. But Jones, although likable once remorseful, is pretty slow on the uptake (the audience has Derrick pegged for a creep two reels before she catches on). When she belatedly decided to do the right thing she discovers the lies the trio told to cover their tracks will dash any credibility she might have in owning up to how the whole mess got started.
Although it's relatively generous with the slick twists, "Gossip" is pretty full of itself and doesn't try very hard to follow through on its potential, blatantly opting for style over substance. The loft parties are ridiculously over-produced, soundtrack-selling affairs with everything but a smoke machine. The entire cast seems to float in a high-fashion bubble of catwalk ennui. Travis' manic mural of symbolic artwork are so overstated as to be laughable. Even the college lecture halls look like director Davis Guggenheim (a TV vet making his feature debut) went dumpster-diving on the set of "Gattaca" to create his campus.
While there's no arguing that the picture looks great, all this distracts from -- and seems to take precedence over -- the mock complexity of the story. To keep the picture afloat, relatively obvious solutions and loopholes are ignored in favor of convoluted contrivances that prop up the serviceable plot just enough for it to pass muster with a target audience the filmmakers presume won't ask a lot of questions if they have something shiny to look at.
Run time: 90 mins
In Theaters: Friday 21st April 2000
Box Office Worldwide: $5.1M
Distributed by: Warner Home Video
Production compaines: Warner Bros. Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 28%
Fresh: 18 Rotten: 47
IMDB: 5.9 / 10
Director: Davis Guggenheim
Starring: Joshua Jackson as Beau Edson, James Marsden as Derrick Webb, Kate Hudson as Naomi Preston, Lena Headey as Cathy Jones, Norman Reedus as Travis, Eric Bogosian as Professor Goodwin, Edward James Olmos as Detective Curtis, Sharon Lawrence as Detective Kelly, Marisa Coughlan as Sheila