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Movie review of Gossip

Updated:
(Reviewer gives it a B-)

There's a nasty rumor going around that "Gossip" is the latest teen-slasher film. Of course, that rumor is mostly based on the TV commercials that make "Gossip" look like another film featuring a young-and-beautiful body count.

But "Gossip" isn't a slasher film, at least not in the literal sense, since no one gets slashed. In fact, there's only one murder and it happens off camera.

In the first interesting twist on the slasher genre since "Scream" turned horror into a postmodern romp, "Gossip" follows the formula but eliminates the gore to create a slasher-less slasher film. To be precise, "Gossip" follows the formula of another slasher film, "Urban Legend" - college crowd of "hot" young actors, cool pop-culture context, puppet-master professor issuing Significant Pronouncements.

There are plenty of differences between the two, too. The college kids in "Gossip" live in ultra-cool New York City, not in small-town New England. And "Gossip" features big-gun names in small parts - Eric Bogosian does his thing as the all-knowing professor and Edward James Olmos appears late in the film as a police detective. But the biggest, most important difference: Gossip is a Joel Schumacher production.

He didn't direct or write "Gossip" - Davis Guggenheim, a TV director, makes his feature-film directorial debut and a couple of people you never heard of wrote the screenplay. But "Gossip" is obviously the product of Mr. Schumacher's "vision."

As past projects such as "Batman and Robin" and "8mm" have taught viewers, Joel Schumacher's name is a guarantee of not just surface over substance but of surface as substance. For its first half - until the story (such as it is) kicks in - "Gossip" is little more than a catalog of cool - cool clothes, cool hair, cool clubs, cool music.

Not - as the "Seinfeld" gang would say - that there's anything wrong with that. Cool is, um, cool. But in this film's never-ending quest for cool stuff to splash across the screen, it loses track of its characters and story.

The movie starts with a triangle that promises interesting diversions - there's smart-and-sassy Jones (Lena Headey), charming rich-boy trickster Derrick (James Marsden) and edgy artist Travis (Norman Reedus). The three generate a genuine and provocative energy, and when they decide to start and track a rumor for a class project, the premise appears poised to really go somewhere.

For a while, it does. Our intrepid trio starts a rumor about the spoiled rich girl who's new to school, and the movie generates a few bursts of high-energy topicality. Rapid-cut montages of mouths talking as the story spreads are offset by Derrick explaining the perfect rumor ("It's simple, it's close to the truth and it's got room to grow") and art-geek Travis musing over the "algorithmical" actions of gossip in motion. - But as the meaningless but beautifully styled scenes pile up, paying attention to the story becomes a sucker's gambit, the pay-off of which is a shocker-finale that sets a new standard in Hollywood for cheap mind-game trickery. In the end, "Gossip" is like one of those flashy, cutting-edge magazines - it looks cool but it's no fun to read.
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