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Rumor Has It…

Sort-of Sequel to The Graduate Struggles to Earn Passing Grades

There's a great sequence at the beginning of Robert Altman's The Player in which Buck Henry, one of the screenwriters responsible for the classic comedy The Graduate, pitches a wildly ill-conceived sequel. He's desperate for inspiration, and he's grasping at straws. It shows.

Well, Rumor Has It…, the new comedy by Rob Reiner (A Few Good Men, Alex & Emma), is probably the closest we'll ever come to getting that sequel, and in its defense, it almost works. It boasts a stellar cast of comedic actors, with the slyly charming Kevin Costner and Mark Ruffalo (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) easily playing off Jennifer Aniston and an amusingly feisty Shirley MacLaine. And its premise, though far-fetched, is intriguing.

Sarah Huttinger (Aniston) is a young New York journalist who dutifully, if not eagerly, heads home to sunny Pasadena for her sister's wedding. Once there, she admits to her doting fiancé, Jeff (Ruffalo), that she's always wondered whether she's really her father's child -- their styles and sensibilities couldn't me more different, and it doesn't help that they look nothing alike. Enter her loose-lipped grandmother, Katharine (MacLaine) -- aka, Mrs. Robinson -- who reveals that their oddball family was the inspiration for the novel and film The Graduate.

Naturally, Sarah investigates, and soon finds herself in the Bay Area, face to face with the man who was so famously seduced by both her grandmother and her now-deceased mother, Beau Burroughs (Kevin Costner). (Dustin Hoffman, who played Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate, fails to make even a brief appearance, which is a shame.) Fittingly, Beau has gone into plastics -- or, more precisely, the computer software industry, which has transformed him from an awkward, directionless kid into a quietly engaging millionaire. Before long, Sarah opts to carry on a proud family tradition by sleeping with him.

Could it be that the once-proud director of This is Spinal Tap and The Princess Bride has lowered himself to making movies about incest jokes? Sort of. More than once, Sarah confronts the possibility that she's shagged her real dad, but Beau insists that he's been sterile since his teenage years, and the crisis is averted. Then it's time for a heartfelt chat with dad -- you know, the real real dad -- and a reunion with her suffering fiancé. The end.

The real surprise is that Reiner almost pulls it off. Rumor Has It… has plenty of small laughs and a few big ones, but it unwisely veers toward a maudlin conclusion, undercutting a perfectly sharp comedy with the type of scripted drama that would feel right at home in a bad sitcom. The cast valiantly struggles to rise above the material, but when Sarah's search for an identity goes from lighthearted to overwrought, the movie sputters. That, too, is a shame, because this Rumor shows a brief flicker of promise, but it's snuffed out just too quickly.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars