Like long lost friends or distant relatives, consumers of popular entertainment often wonder what happened to characters they connected to or simply enjoyed watching in plays, TV shows and movies. Of course, when studio heads and producers get wind of questions like "Whatever happened to the Brady Bunch kids?" "What did the 4077 crew do after they returned home from Korea?" or "I wonder if Rocky Balboa is still boxing? the results are crud like "The Brady Girls Get Married," "After MASH" and any of the "Rocky" films with Roman numerals higher than II.
The very notion of that was hilariously spoofed in the opening sequence of Robert Altman's "The Player," where Buck Henry -- who penned the 1967 film "The Graduate" -- is pitching his latest idea, "The Graduate II," with funny ideas of what happened to the characters following Ben (Dustin Hoffman) interrupting Elaine's (Katharine Ross) wedding and then running off with her after having slept with her mother (Anne Bancroft). The scene was obviously designed to deride the very sort of Hollywood mindset that comes up with such follow-up garbage and which can't leave well enough alone.
All of which brings us to "Rumor Has It..." a follow-up to -- yes, you guessed it -- "'The Graduate." Yet, rather than being a sequel per se, the film presents the slightly fun, if completely unwarranted notion of seeing what happened to the "real people" who inspired Charles Webb's novel that then turned into Mike Nichols' groundbreaking film.
With the opening title card reading "Based on a true rumor," the familiar "Here's to you, Mrs. Robinson" ditty by Simon and Garfunkel cueing up, and Jennifer Aniston serving as our introductory narrator, we're quickly plunged into the basic concept that the hoity-toity denizens of Pasadena, California have always wondered who the real Robinsons were. And by gosh golly, Aniston's character thinks it was her family.
As directed by the once reliable Rob Reiner from a screenplay by T.M. (Ted) Griffin (who previously penned "Matchstick Men" and "Ocean's Eleven"), the film is being advertised as something akin to a wacky romantic comedy (using the Simon & Garfunkel tune to grab baby-boomers' attention). Yet, it's more of a dull drama tinged with a few moments that are supposed to be funny, but usually aren't.
The problems, of which there are many, begin with this effort repeatedly referencing and thus inevitably being compared to the original film. And while I realize the characters here are not the temporal extensions of those played by Hoffman and Bancroft the first time around (there's no modern day equivalent for Ross' character), you can't help but look at them and think that the casting, personification and more are all wrong. It's so off and distracting that it almost makes you long for Henry's previously pitched version.
Since that's not in the works (we hope), we're left with following Aniston playing Sarah Huttinger, one of those cold feet chicks who's perpetually neurotic and unhappy, but not in way that most viewers will find funny. After a departure of recent with work in films such as "Derailed" and "The Good Girl," the actress returns to more familiar ground with this effort, but the script and especially the jokes aren't as sharply written as they were on "Friends" (although the film shares some sitcom style trappings with that long-running show). But man o' man, does her hair look great (between this film and the hairdo that inspired "The Rachel" cut, you'd think she'd being pitching some hair product, as she's a natural fit).
Anyway, upon arriving for the pending wedding of her sister (played by Mena Suvari in another bubbly if flat performance), Sarah learns from her feisty grandmother (Shirley MacLaine getting typecast in this sort of role) that her mother also got cold feet before her wedding and thus ran off to Cabo with Dustin, uh, Kevin Costner for a little pre-marriage R&R.
Accordingly, Sarah then thinks that Mr. Field of Dreams is her father, so she naturally sets out to find him, drinks too much and then beds him (like any transplanted California girl does on any given day). The movie ads have already spoiled that "surprise," and while it might deliver the film's best line ("This isn't 'The Graduate.' This is 'Deliverance'"), it creates a genuinely icky feel to the production that can't ever be wiped away. And while it -- surprise, surprise -- turns out not to be true, she's cheated on her fiancÚ, so the damage is done to viewer goodwill either way.
That leads to her worrying about having committed incest, repeated talk of "blunt testicular trauma" and such, none of which is remotely funny in concept or execution. Once upon a time Reiner -- who long ago helmed "This is Spinal Tap," "The Princess Bride" and "The American President," not to mention "When Harry Met Sally" -- might have been able to do something insightful, fun or funny with that material and the overall plot. Alas, that seems beyond the reach of the director who now adds this film to his recent string of disappointments that include "Alex & Emma" and "The Story of Us."
The simple fact is that notwithstanding the overall connection back to "The Graduate," the film is a misfire, both comedically and dramatically. We don't care about any of the characters, their goals or the way things play out. It doesn't help that Aniston's character isn't interesting or likable, or that the likes of Mark Ruffalo, Richard Jenkins and yes, even Kevin Costner (whose part is smaller than is probably expected) are wasted. Throw in the misguided and fumbled tie-ins to the original film, and the result is a boring and less than involving mess that's far more drama than comedy, at least of the intentional kind.
Set in 1997 (so that the ages supposedly sync up with the characters in the first film -- you do the math), the film feels like a relic, with period jokes (about rumors of the AOL Time Warner merger, as well as the movie "Titanic") and supposed social satire (about the rich who infest Pasadena) that fall flat.
I suppose the film isn't as bad as the long rumored actual sequel to the 1967 film might have been, but then again, that one never got made while this one did. Right up there with the aforementioned TV shows and movies that never should have seen the light of day, "Rumor Has It..." starts with a slightly fun premise and then goes nowhere but downhill from there.