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‘Rumor Has It’ suffers by comparison

Limp comedy makes the mistake of invoking the classic film ‘The Graduate’
/ Source: The Associated Press

There are a couple of classic caveats about Hollywood: Never put your own money into a movie and avoid working with animals or children. Here’s another: Do not draw comparisons between your run-of-the-mill movie and a great one.

That’s the built-in problem with the latest movie in Rob Reiner’s slow slide toward oblivion, “Rumor Has It,” starring Jennifer Aniston as a woman who learns her messed-up family may have been the inspiration for the book and movie “The Graduate.”

At first glance, it sounds like a potentially cute idea, and perhaps with some wit, energy and bite to it, the story could have been a blackly comic successor to Mike Nichols’ 1967 masterpiece.

But “Rumor Has It” does not even rise to the level of trivially pleasant romantic comedy. The movie just sits there, lumbering along with nothing to offer but occasionally caustic sparks provided by Shirley MacLaine as the supposed source of Anne Bancroft’s Mrs. Robinson.

There are few laughs and little drama to the movie, whose inclusion of the famous seduction scene between Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman and some verses of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” only emphasize what a dreary, artificial affair Reiner and screenwriter T.M. Griffin have concocted.

Aniston plays Sarah Huttinger, a New York Times obituary writer whose career has stagnated and who has faintheartedly agreed to marry her boyfriend, Jeff (Mark Ruffalo).

With Jeff in tow, Sarah returns home to Pasadena for the wedding of her sister (Mena Suvari), and an awkward reunion with her widower dad (Richard Jenkins), whose late wife would equate to Katharine Ross’ character, Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, in “The Graduate.”

Sarah’s saucy grandma (MacLaine) lets slip that just before her parents married, her mom ran off with another man, returning home to wed her dad after a brief fling. An aunt reveals the other guy was best buddies with “Graduate” author Charles Webb, and Sarah’s off and running to find the connection between her own family and the strange triangle of the Robinson gals and Hoffman’s Benjamin Braddock, who made off with Ross’ Elaine Robinson moments after she married another man.

The trail leads to Kevin Costner as Beau Burroughs (get it? Initials “BB,” just like Benjamin Braddock). Beau’s an Internet tycoon, and it’s best we say no more about what transpires between him and Sarah to avoid spoiling things for anyone who might actually want to see “Rumor Has It.”

The actors all are fine, Reiner’s technical direction is fine. Everything about the movie is just fine, which translates to bland on a comedy scale.

The director who once had unerring comic timing in “When Harry Met Sally ...”, “The Sure Thing” and “This Is Spinal Tap” hasn’t been able to buy a laugh with a string of duds that include “Alex & Emma,” “The Story of Us” and now “Rumor Has It.”

When your highlights are a few snippets of dialogue and a musical clip from the 38-year-old film whose coattails you’re soiling, odds are your movie’s heading into the drink. No rumors. That’s a fact.