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Cruel Intentions

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Cruel Intentions

Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe
Director: Roger Kumble
Rated: R
RunTime: 90 Minutes
Release Date: March 1999
Genre: Drama

Review by Greg King
3 stars out of 4

In updating Choderlos De Laclos' 1782 novel of debauchery, deception and sexual betrayal to the 20th century, first time director Roger Kumble reaffirms the timelessness of the story and its themes. He maintains the essential ideas of the original novel, but brings a hip, street wise sensibility to the plot and breathes new life into the self absorbed, ruthless characters. Kumble still sets this modern version amidst a world of wealth and immense privilege, in which the beautiful people arrogantly believe that the normal rules of society do not apply to them. Sebastian Valmont (the hunky Ryan Phillippe) and his beautiful step sister Kathryn (Sarah Michelle Gellar, from I Know What You Did Last Summer, and tv's Buffy The Vampire Slayer, etc) desperately lust after each other. Left alone in their plush Manhattan apartment while their parents holiday, they direct their energies into seducing many of their contemporaries and then casually destroying their reputations.

But the stakes are dramatically upped when Sebastian sets out to seduce Annette (Reese Witherspoon, recently seen in Pleasantville, etc), the daughter of his school's new headmaster. In a recent magazine interview Annette publicly avowed to maintain her virginity until she marries the man she loves. Meanwhile, Kathryn sets out to tarnish the reputation of Cecile (newcomer Selma Blair), the new girl friend of an ex-lover who dumped her in humiliating circumstances. At stake is Sebastian's prized 1956 vintage Jaguar. But Sebastian has underestimated the cunning of his manipulative sister, who is willing to play people off against one another, especially when the stakes are so high and personal.

Neither the contemporary setting, the hunky young cast, nor the cutting edge soundtrack detract from the savage nature of the amoral games that the pair play for their own sense of personal gratification. There is more than a whiff of sex here, although some fans may be disappointed to learn they don't get to see Buffy in the buff.

The charismatic and handsome Phillipe (the best thing in the recent 54) continues to impress with another superb performance. He conveys Sebastian's transformation from cynical, shallow cad, and gives the flashy character some unexpected depth. Gellar relishes this opportunity to play against type, and is superb as the bitchy and manipulative Kathryn, who is prepared to use anyone to achieve her aims. Witherspoon is also good as the vulnerable and naive Annette, the intended victim of these dangerous games who unexpectedly triumphs. Oscar winner Louise Fletcher, Swoosie Kurtz and Christine Baranski round out the cast in smaller roles as some of the adult characters caught up in the cruel machinations.

Cruel Intentions has a sophisticated style that will also strongly appeal to an adult audience not normally drawn towards shallow teen dramas.

Copyright 2000 Greg King

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