Cruel Intentions

Memphis Flyer

DIRECTED BY: Roger Kumble

REVIEWED: 03-15-99

People, the future looks bleak. It’s not the threat of Y2K; it’s the glut of these throwaway movies involving cool, bitchy teenagers. In fact, being thrown into darkness and cold doesn’t seem so bad if it means this particular filmmaking trend stops.

The latest affront is Cruel Intentions, an adaptation of Les Liaisons Dangereuses involving high-schoolers. Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Phillippe (54) star as Katherine and Sebastian, stepsister and stepbrother and all-around troublemakers. With their parents away, Katherine and Sebastian have decided to make their last days before school starts a little more interesting. Sebastian bets that he can deflower the school virgin before the first bell. He puts up his classic car; she antes up the use of her body in any way her stepbrother sees fit. At the same time, they join forces to humiliate another virtuous girl, who dared to catch the eye of one of Katherine’s boyfriends and whose mother is gossiping about Sebastian.

Gratuitous hardly seems sufficient in describing this film. Spit is swapped between two of the young actresses, there’s a quick butt shot, and Katherine and Sebastian spend an awful lot of time rubbing on each other while talking explicitly. But it’s not even gratuitous in a fun, campy way; it just feels cheap. But that was probably writer/director Roger Kumble’s intention: to shock with the risqué. The actors are certainly up for their parts. They sneer and preen with the best of them.

Cruel Intentions misses a true opportunity with its use of contemporary teens. The Liaisons Dangereuses franchise works on its use of deception and destroying trust in the most intimate fashion. Yet, in this day and age, a shattering seduction is somewhat old hat. So you’re a slut? So what? It might just get you a book deal and two hours with Barbara Walters. What would really ruin these kids is spreading rumors of a more nasty sort, say they like Celine Dion or, worse, Britney Spears. That would finish them but good.

--Susan Ellis

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