Color, 2000, 90m. / Directed by Davis Guggenheim / Starring James Marsden, Lena Headey / Warner (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9) / DD5.1

Chalk up another one for the guilty pleasures list. Tossing elements of Wild Things and Shallow Grave into a sinfully glossy package, Gossip tries to undo the degradation of the youth thriller genre from the likes of trash like Urban Legend and The Skulls by reigning in the sex and gore quotient, focusing instead on plot-driven thrills and surprising character developments. Indeed, there's little reason for this film to be rated R (as compared to The In Crowd's PG-13?), and by the end it even defies categorization by piling twist upon twist with a dash of moral posturing for good measure. No wonder the marketing folks at Warner had no idea what to do with this one, saddling it instead with another one of those uninspired face collage posters that need to be put out to pasture immediately. Gossip won't please everyone, but its alluring cheap thrills certainly offer their own rewards.

Trust fund kid Derrick (James Marsden) splits his swanky college loft with two friends, Cathy Jones (Lena Headey) and struggling artist Travis (Norman Reedus). They decide to collaborate on a paper for their sociology class with Professor Goodwin (Eric Bogosian) by starting a nasty rumour about repressed society girl Naomi (Kate Hudson) and charting its progress throughout the campus. The gossip chain transforms the story from a slightly kinky anecdote into an account of rape involving another blueblood, Beau (Joshua Jackson), who winds up interrogated by the police when a drunken Naomi can't really remember what happened at a party. However, Cathy begins to suspect that there may be other motivations lying beneath the rumor, particularly when Naomi reacts with horror upon hearing Derrick's name. By the end, truth and fiction become difficult to separate, and no one is quite whom they seem.

Most obviously, Gossip is designed as a sensual thrill ride, with each shot offering absurdly overstuffed visions of gaudy nightclubs, glittery multi-room parties decked out with slide projectors, and Travis' perverse wall-sized art installations involving Naomi's face. The soundtrack follows suit with a terrific, catchy Graeme Revell score and, for once, a well-chosen and thematically appropriate selection of pop songs. The actors all look great and wrap their tongues nicely around their tart, thoroughly implausible dialogue. The script throws in a nice little kicker of a twist ending (which some notable critics felt ruined the movie, but it does work), as well as enough shady motivations to keep you guessing. Though it vanished quickly in theatres, Warner and Morgan Creek packaged Gossip as a special edition DVD without labeling it as one. In keeping with the studio's track record, the scope transfer looks fantastic, with a subtle but effective 5.1 audio mix that gradually picks up steam as the film progresses. The alternate full frame version opens up the Super 35 matte without losing much on the sides, but it just doesn't look as striking and well composed; stick with the widescreen option. The commentary track features TV vet director Davis Guggenheim and Marsden casually chatting about production of the film, including some details about production shooting. (It's often hilarious how this film, supposedly set somewhere between New York and Vermont, features so many supporting characters with pronounced Canadian accents.) An extended series of takes of Hudson and Jackson's party tryst is included, along with four deleted scenes, one of which features Marsden's finest moment in the entire film and should have been retained. Also included is a widely excised longer version of the final scene, which offers a ridiculous new fate for one character, along a collage of Travis' video interviews and a "Grab Bag" featuring music videos by Poe and Tonic, plus longer raw footage of the gossip montage. Right down to the core of its Velveeta-scented heart, this is cinematic junk food all the way, but at least it's quite tasty all the same.

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