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Rumor Has It...

(2005) ** Pg-13
96 min. Warner Brothers. Director: Rob Reiner. Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Mark Ruffalo, Shirley MacLaine, Kevin Costner, Mena Suvari.

Much of Rumor Has It— takes place in a sitcom house with a glaringly obvious fake backdrop surrounding it. It's an unintended symbol of the lack of realism and skill on display in Rob Reiner's new comedy, a self-consciously nutty riff on the legend of The Graduate.

Taking off from the idea that Charles Webb's 1963 novel and its 1967 film adaptation were "based on a true rumor," Rumor Has It— pitches Jennifer Aniston as the potential illegitimate love child of Benjamin Braddock. After doing the math, Aniston's Sarah leaves one daddy (Richard Jenkins) at home and goes off in search of this maybe-daddy, who in "real life" is a filthy rich internet mogul named Beau Burroughs (Kevin Costner). Though Sarah's mother is dead, Beau will inevitably have to tangle again with Sarah's grandmother Katherine, a.k.a. Mrs. Robinson (played with typical verve by Shirley MacLaine). Rumor Has It— gets most of its supposed humor from an incest tease between Aniston and Costner and the romantic entanglement of three generations of women with the same man.

Screenwriter Ted Griffin grasps pathetically for depth with awkward references to movies. A "Casablanca night" setpiece seems merely to be an excuse to put Costner in a white tux, and the showdown between "Benjamin" and "Mrs. Robinson" actually includes the line "What movie are you living in now?" More often that not, Griffin is content to go for twinkly sentiment (Marc Shaiman's like-minded score is an embarrasment). Marc Ruffalo gets wasted once more as Sarah's undervalued nice-guy fiance, while Costner's possibly caddish smoothie purrs lines like, "Life should be a little nuts; otherwise, it's just a bunch of Thursdays." Momentarily raising hopes, Kathy Bates hams it up for one scene, as Sarah's brassy aunt.

At one point, Sarah muses, "Maybe we're both just chasing ghosts." It's an apt metaphor for Reiner's sad goose chase in pursuit of The Graduate's cultural relevance. For a movie purportedly about the truth behind a movie, the mushy Rumor Has It— feels astoundingly false.

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