Cruel Intentions - B
Viewed March 6, 1999 at Union Square 14

Like Gus van Sant's recreation of Psycho, Cruel Intentions is the kind of film whose basic concept either sets your eyebrows arching in interest or generates loud preemptive hisses of dismissal. I was in the arched-eyebrow camp; I think setting Les liasions dangereuses among modern high-schoolers is an absolutely brilliant concept for a dark satire. Too bad dark satire really isn't what Roger Kumble, the freshman writer-director behind Intentions, had in mind.

For what it is (a raunchy romp), Cruel Intentions is entertaining; Kumble keeps the plot barreling along with a sure hand and throws in some wickedly arch one-liners, and Ryan Phillipe & Sarah Michelle Gellar (in a very un-Buffyesque role) turn in assured and charismatic performances as the Valmont & Merteuil of this affair. Reese Witherspoon is largely wasted in the thankless role of Annete Hargrove (this film's Madame Tourvel); here's hoping her performance in Election is as vivid as her work in Freeway. But the film's satiric potential is diluted, parodoxically, by being a little too faithful to the source material. The Upper East Side haut monde milieu Kumble sets the film in, while being close to 18th-century French aristocracy, is too remote from my (and the target audience's) reality to register as anything other than the same artificial Movieland Wild Things took place in. And while I liked the results, I pine for the film that could have been..