Fri, Feb 24, 2006 - Page 17 News List

Rumor has it this film is all wrong

If you regret having missed the romantic comedies of last year, fear not: you can catch up with them for the price of one ticket

By A.O. Scott  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Rumor Has It abounds with overt movie references, most of them to The Graduate. The premise, you see, is that a former beau of the heroine's dead mother may have been the model for the hero of Charles Webb's novel The Graduate, which was of course the basis for the 1967 movie directed by Mike Nichols. Or, to put it more simply, Dustin Hoffman may have grown up into Kevin Costner, while Anne Bancroft might have aged gracefully into Shirley MacLaine.

We'll sort all that out in a moment. But the most striking thing about Rumor Has It, directed between naps by Rob Reiner from a script by TM Griffin, is how uncannily it resembles movies far more recent and, in general, less interesting than The Graduate. If you regret having missed the romantic comedies of last year, fear not: you can catch up with them, in digested, streamlined form, for the price of a single ticket.

MacLaine plays the grandmother of two mismatched sisters whose mother died when they were young, just as she did in In Her Shoes. Costner plays a somewhat less dissolute version of the mellow, bibulous midlife bon vivant he played in The Upside of Anger -- unless, that is, he is playing the same older man dallying with a younger woman that Steve Martin was in Shopgirl. And here's Mark Ruffalo, moping through another romantic sidekick role, just like in Just Like Heaven.

Not that I'm suggesting anything like plagiarism. An urban legend used to postulate a central kitchen underneath the streets of Manhattan, where all the city's takeout Chinese food was prepared. Out in Los Angeles, screenplays apparently emerge from a similar place, scooped from steam tables and shipped out to the multiplexes with fortune cookies wrapped in cellophane.

Film Notes:

Rumor Has It

Directed by: Rob Reiner

Starring: Jennifer Aniston (Sarah Huttinger), Kevin Costner (Beau Burroughs), Shirley MacLaine (Katharine Richelieu), Mark Ruffalo (Jeff Daly), Richard Jenkins (Earl Huttinger) and Mena Suvari (Annie Huttinger)

Running time: 96 minutes

Taiwan Release: Today


I suppose Rumor Has It could be worse, though at the moment I'm at a loss to say just how. MacLaine and Costner are seasoned professionals, giving lackluster laugh lines more juice than they deserve, and Jennifer Aniston is as plucky and engaging as ever. Her character, Sarah Huttinger, also works for The New York Times, and I'm loath to say anything mean about a colleague, even a fictitious one. But Aniston's efforts are wasted in a movie that can't even seem to sustain interest in itself.

Sarah is from Pasadena, apparently still an island of boozy Republican insularity in the great Southern California melting pot. In the flashbacks that set up the movie's conceit, we see an image of Barry Goldwater on a black-and-white television set in a local living room, a reference that foreshadows the Dole-Kemp bumper sticker on Sarah's dad's Cadillac. I hadn't seen those names in a while, but Rumor Has It is precisely -- and a bit oddly -- set in 1997, and it expresses intermittent nostalgia for that distant year. Costner's Beau Burroughs is a Silicon Valley Internet guru, first seen spouting visionary mumbo-jumbo in a San Francisco hotel buzzing with talk of revolution and IPO's. Beau is a pal of Bill Clinton (and perhaps, with regard to certain appetites, a kindred soul as well). Remarkably, no one thinks to mention Friends, though someone does tell Sarah that she'd make a good hair-care model.

The movie deals with the potential creepiness of its story -- Sarah, who starts out thinking that Beau might be her real father, winds up going to bed with him, just like her mother and grandmother before her -- by being insistently bland. Its idea of a joke is to repeat the phrase "blunt test-icular trauma" four or five times in a single scene. Some of the characters, notably Sarah's father (Richard Jenkins) and her younger sister (Mena Suvari), begin as easy targets for tired satire and then turn nice and soft. Nobody here fails to be nice, which is, I guess, nice -- though at the cost of being funny.

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