Directed By Roger Kumble
By: Eric G.
Nothing could be finer than a teen version of Choderlos de Laclos’ novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses, a sadistic story of debauchery and back stabbing, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe and Reese Witherspoon. I knew this film was going to deliver because you don’t just remake a perfectly directed film (the 1988 version entitled directed by Stephen Frears being the mark to top), unless you have something up your sleeve or you are Gus Van Sant. Kumble arrives with this film right in the middle of the teen explosion where shows like Dawson’s Creek, Felicity, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and Party Of Five supply practically all of the cast members for movies that are slaying the box office. He’s got the right stars, a sleek soundtrack, and the perfect plot, so it’s hard to miss.
Kumble takes every cheap shot necessary to make his version the most offensive, shocking, and gratuitous yet, and he almost achieves it with things like crucifixes that double as cocaine dispensers, sibling sexual innuendo, interracial sexual innuendo, and teen gay sex (part of which was cut from the final film but will appear in the DVD release).The film only suffers from its actors’ lack of experience in relating some of the more complex moods across to the viewer. Sarah Michelle Gellar as Kathryn and Ryan Phillippe as Sebastian (54, Playing By Heart) are impressively evil in their respective parts, but it’s newcomer Selma Blair (Zoe, Duncan, Jack, & Jane) who steals the show as the playfully naive Cecile. Blair exudes a buoyant sexuality, perfectly balancing coyness and idiocy with so much calenture that she lights up the screen. The highlight of the film is the scene in which the jaded Kathryn has to teach Cecile, the sexual novice, a thing or two about kissing. The ensuing (French!) kissing scene is the most luscious and titillating piece of film in years.
Sebastian and Kathryn are step-siblings whose disturbing attraction to one another lures them into a ludicrous bet in which Sebastian has to seduce the virginal Annette (Reese Witherspoon), a newcomer to the absurdly rich circle that Kathryn and Sebastian haunt. The prize for Sebastian is a roll in the sack with his stepsister, and the bonus is that he gets to put ‘it’ anywhere he wants. If Kathryn wins she gets his obnoxiously perfect 1956 Jaguar convertible. Sounds fair. Macbethean themes drive the rest of the film as Sebastian’s pride for his reputation overcomes his inevitable love for Annette- this being the only hard part of the film to swallow. Kumble makes up for failing to make us feel anything for Sebastian’s plight with clever editing and overly sentimental slow motion sequences that are just cheesy enough to work. Witherspoon holds her own as a feisty adversary to the manipulative charms of Sebastian. (Dawson’s Creek clearly paved the way for the getting-to-know-you scenes between Sebastian and Annette with language so far ahead of their ages it seems farcical).
Cruel Intentions is sick, slick commerciality, and it wallows in its own filth with pride and cerebral aplomb. Kumble knows he’s got a winner here. This film destroys all of the teen angst wannabes of late simply because it takes risks. Audiences today are not naive. It takes more than a ‘Marcia Brady make-over plot’ to entertain kids that grew up with computers, beepers, and cell phones, and Cruel Intentions masterfully takes something old and turns it into something worth your time.