It is difficult to believe I have gone this long at Apocalypse Cinema without reviewing a Reese Witherspoon film, but strangely enough, it has. Cruel Intentions is a fine introduction to the lovely Witherspoon. It is not necessarily my favorite of hers, but the film solidified her as one of my favorite actresses.
Cruel Intentions is a loose adaptation of the 18th century French novel Dangerous Liaisons. rather than France of the time period, the story is transferred to a modern day New York prep school to feature the manipulation of wealthy teenagers. The movie fits into the then popular genre of twenty-somethings playing teenagers who are having sex with each other. Popular then, but never really falls out of favor, does it?
Sarah Michelle Gellar stars as Kathryn, a manipulative girl who takes a shelter new bie Cecile, played by Selma Blair, under her wing to show her the ropes. In reality, Kathryn wants revenge on Cecile for unintentionally stealing her boyfriend. She plans to turn Cecile into a slut. Oftentimes, she has been aided in these schemes by her equally amoral stepbrother Sebastian, played by Ryan Phillippe, but he has his sights set on Annette. Annette, played by my baby Reese, recently wrote a manifesto for a teen magazine in which she promised to wait for true love before having sex. Sebastian bets Kathryn he can seduce Annette, with the prize being roll in the hay with her. If he loses, she gets his vintage Jaguar.
Their machinations run towards the darkly comedic as they both destroy Cecile while Sebastian slowly but surely falls for Annette even though she has been warned of his sexual appetite. The whole affair is rather cynical. Cecile’s fall, for which Sebastian is largely responsible, occurs simultaneously with his redemptive act of falling in love with Annette, thereby becoming a better man. He and Kathryn do earn their deserved respective fate, and in the end, Annette is not quite the innocent little sweetheart she was made out to be. Such cynical turns of events appeal to my jaded view of people, so your mileage may vary.
Cruel Intentions has some major flaws. The script is a pedestrian affair which serves only to introduce sexual innuendo into every possible situation. If innuendo is not enough for you, there is plenty of sex, though nothing more than implied nudity. There is nothing particularly graphic about any of it. In fact, the cinematography when sebastion and Annette finally make the beast with two backs is so well done, the fine hairs on Annette’s tummy are visible. Atmosphere andf attention to detail, folks.
The biggest flaw surrounds the dialogue. It is dry and cliché. The actors often deliver it in such a wooden manner, you swear they are doing it on purpose as though it adds something to their character. Phillippe in particular plods through his lines as though he is reading text he has never seen before off a teleprompter.
But quality filmmaking is not why you see a movie like Cruel Intentions. you want to see the pretty people. You will not be disappointed. The film is a who’s who of young Hollywood sex symbols of 1999: Reese Witherspoon, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Selma Blair, Ryan Phillippe, and Joshua Jackson being the most prominent. Guys and girls can find can find at least one they have an interest in. In just about any combination, too. There is lesbian kissing, gay trysts, taking virginity, interracial, and lots of heterosexual. So it does not really matter the script is lacking. There is an abundance of what you are really after in a teenage sex film.
Rating: *** (out of 5)