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Review: 'Cruel Intentions' is crude, unusual punishment

Web posted on: Thursday, March 04, 1999 12:12:45 PM EST

By Reviewer Paul Clinton

(CNN) -- The teen-age target audience will probably gobble "Cruel Intentions" right up, but for me this film boarders on creepy. "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" ("Dangerous Liaisons"), the novel upon which this movie is loosely based, dealt with jaded adults who were emotionally vapid and used sex as a weapon.

On the surface, this transfer from 18th-century France to a modern-day high school might even sound like a good idea. After all, sex, revenge and cruelty are -- unfortunately -- staples of the teen-age experience. But the results are less than thrilling.

Paul's Pix: "Cruel Intentions"
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Theatrical preview for "Cruel Intentions"
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Windows Media 28K 80K

Ultimately this potty-mouthed group of kids with raging hormones all look like they're playing dress-up in clothes from "Sluts Are Us" as they spew out dialogue way beyond their years. (Much of the wardrobe actually comes from a Los Angeles store called "Trashy Lingerie.") Imagine a high school production of "Bridges of Madison County," or the Hanson brothers singing "Is That All There Is." It just doesn't work.

Poor little rich kids

Ryan "I've-been-in-every-teen-film-this-year" Phillippe plays Sebastian. His stepsister Kathryn is played by Sarah Michelle Gellar. The two are spoiled rotten brats living on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

They're bored rattling around the summer vacation in their multimillion-dollar mansion, so they come up with a plan. But instead of taking over Grandpa's barn and putting on a show like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, they decide to make cynical, vicious bets on bedding their fellow classmates.

Reese Witherspoon plays a vestal virgin, Annette, a new transfer to Sebastian and Kathryn's exclusive private school. Her father is even the school's new dean. Quicker than you can say "cheap, meaningless sex," she becomes the object of Sebastian's lustful obsession. (Back in the real world, Witherspoon and Phillippe recently announced their engagement and are expecting a child this fall.)

If he can succeed with the innocent Annette, his stepsister Kathryn has agreed to sleep with him -- and as she phrases it, he can put "it" anywhere he likes. Charming. If he doesn't succeed in his low-life mission, then Kathryn gets Sebastian's prized vintage 1956 Jaguar.

Of course there isn't a parental unit in sight in this orgy of teen-age lust on a rampage. I personally found it very disconcerting to see a film depicting kids engaged in manipulative, mean-spirited sex to humiliate other people and passing it off as entertainment. They should have to earn that attitude the old fashioned way -- through years of hideous experiences in bad relationships -- just as I did. But I digress.

It's true that teen-agers can be the most vicious of creatures. Just read "Lord of the Flies," or visit any high school in your area.

But seeing these fresh-faced youngsters spewing language right off the docks gets very old very fast. After awhile, it all seemed to sound really ludicrous on the lips of these kids.

Please, rent the Malkovich version

If you want to see this story done right, rent the 1988 film "Dangerous Liaisons" starring Glenn Close and John Malkovich. These actors are the right age for the plot (which is a character study in depravity), and to paraphrase an old vice-presidential debate -- I've seen Close and Malkovich, and Phillippe and Gellar, you are no Close and Malkovich.

Phillippe actually may grow into a decent actor, but Michelle Gellar, best known as Buffy in the TV series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," is a one-note actress at best -- and the note is badly off-key.

This is the debut feature film for director Roger Kumble, who in the past has "contributed" -- code word for suggesting a thing or two -- to films like "Dumb & Dumber" and "Kingpin." Yep, he'd be my choice for updating a classic French novel! He reportedly wrote this screenplay during a short Mexican vacation. He should have stayed there.

However, I've got to admit that Kumble does know how to pander to his audience. For the adolescent boys, he provides a long, lingering soul kiss between two girls. For the girls, he's shot a nice lingering bare-tush shot of Phillippe. Let's aim for those base, lower instincts, shall we?

For many teens those scenes may be worth the price of admission. So watch: this stupid, stupid film will probably be number one at the box office for weeks.

"Cruel Intentions" has a very well earned R rating for language and sexual content. 90 minutes.

Slip into Your Wildest Dreams
February 9, 1999
Ryan Phillippe says he's nice by nature
March 1, 1999
Review: Watch out Jason, that new killer is 'Still' in town
November 16, 1998
Aaron Spelling says he's shocked by sexy teen movies
February 22, 1999

Official 'Cruel Intentions' site
Sony Pictures Movies
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