Rated R - Running time: 1:35 - Released 3/5/99

Egads. I knew Dangerous Liaisons (1988), starring Glenn Close and John Malkovich, was really good, but I forgot how good until last night. Its excellence is heavily underscored by the new teenage version, Cruel Intentions, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Phillippe. Written and directed by Roger Kumble (based on the novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos), this is the most laughable piece of tripe I have forced myself to sit through in quite some time. It is a bad-acting extravaganza of the first magnitude, featuring the ridiculously unlikely love/sex lives of a bunch of snot-nosed kids pretending to be suave.

The story is that Kathryn Merteuil (Gellar), the rich, vindictive seductress and class president of the selective Manchester School, and her half-brother Sebastian (Phillipe), the bad-boy Cassanova, enjoy seeing people's reputations destroyed, so they decide to make a wager: He will bed the squeaky-clean Annette Hargrove (Reese Witherspoon), who has had her "I want to wait for true love before having sex" manifesto published in a national magazine. Annette, who has just come to Manchester this year, is looked on by all as the ideal of adolescent restraint and maturity. So our two infantile sex scoundrels put their plan in motion, with the following terms: If Kathryn wins (that is, if Sebastian fails to make it with Annette), she gets his '56 Jaguar Roadster. If Sebastian does the deed with Annette, he gets to do the deed with Kathryn, no holes barred (if you catch my drift). But the plan backfires: Sebastian is so impressed by Annette's wholesome charms, he actually falls in love with her.

Meanwhile, Cecile Caldwell (Selma Blair), a virginal ditz whose mother (Christine Baranski) has entrusted her to Kathryn's care, is similarly undone by Sebastian so that the man she loves (Sean Patrick Thomas) can be had by Kathryn.

I thought Gellar was bad in Simply Irresistible, but watching her make pastries is infinitely more enjoyable than squirming through her attempt at evil refinement. Apart from spreading her legs and opening her blouse, her portrayal of Kathryn contains little that is remotely impressive. And if you think she's bad, you should see Phillippe as Sebastian, who supposedly wants to get Kathryn in bed (since she's the only one in school he hasn't yet). Phillipe seems to be cast seriously against his own personal grain here. His scrawny, mincing, overintellectual performance makes it difficult to watch the many scenes in which he's making it with the various women of the film. I haven't seen a man so uncomfortable with his heterosexual role since Malcolm Gets in Caroline In The City.

The performances by Witherspoon and Blair are not terrible, but they can't save the film from Gellar and Phillipe. Kumble's directing, if he was even present during shooting, has people doing things unfathomable to human nature. The little emotion portrayed is openly faked, with people suddenly "crying" when the situation has not given reason for it. You could tell the eyedroppers were working overtime during the final reel, because every time you turn around there's another fake tear rolling down someone's unemotional cheek.

Don't waste your hard-earned dollars on Cruel Intentions, unless you want to find yourself victim to the wager that must have been made between Kumble and his producers. Maybe if the film makes a million dollars, he gets to drive someone's vintage Yugo. *

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

See Current Reviews

See FilmQuips Archive