Cruel Intentions (1999)
Cruel Intentions (1999)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 37 min.

Release Date: March 5th, 1999 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Roger Kumble Actors: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Reese Witherspoon, Selma Blair, Joshua Jackson, Eric Mabius, Swoosie Kurtz, Christine Baranski, Louise Fletcher, Tara Reid




dolescence is a difficult time …” insists Dr. Regina Greenbaum (Swoosie Kurtz) as she phonily consoles her patient, Sebastian Valmont (Ryan Phillippe), who was formerly addicted to sex. Just as Sebastian leaves, the therapist receives a call from her daughter Marci (Tara Reid), attending Princeton in the fall, who just so happens to be Valmont’s latest victim – having been seduced and then photographed to be exploited on the internet. As it turns out, Sebastian is also quite the fake, using his limitless wealth and the connections that that provides to bed every girl who catches his eye.

“I’m sick of sleeping with these insipid Manhattan debutantes.” Meanwhile, Sebastian’s stepsister Kathryn Merteuil (Sarah Michelle Gellar), also under the guise of propriety and a proper upbringing, plots to ruin the reputation of a prim new enrollee at their elite Manchester school, a girl named Cecile Caldwell (Selma Blair, the least convincing of the bunch, playing dumb in a ludicrous fashion), as revenge for a wandering boyfriend. Kathryn wants her stepbrother to subvert the girl, but Sebastian has a more difficult target: the replacement headmaster’s daughter, Annette Hargrove (Reese Witherspoon), “a paradigm of chastity and virtue,” whom he intends to deflower. She’s out of his league, assures Kathryn, launching a wager that involves a 1956 Jaguar Roadster and a night of passion between the step-siblings. But fair play is definitely out of the question.

Suggested by the novel “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” by Choderlos de Laclos, “Cruel Intentions” is perhaps deviantly comparable to the modernized update of classic novel “Emma” into “Clueless,” here giving an opportunity for the uninitiated to dabble in French literature from the 1700s – whether aware of it or not. Retaining most of the names and certainly the themes, this fresh take employs a surprisingly hip cast, many of whom set aside their family-friendly personas to utter extremely crass, sexually-explicit dialogue (riddled with now-offensive slang and references). And the script is the highlight, as over-the-top and unruly as it is (peppered with racism and misogyny), adapting conversations and actions from the source material in a wickedly contemporary manner – as well as with sharply pointed humor.

“We’re destroying an innocent girl. You do realize that?” Though it’s utterly devoid of upright morals and wholesome characters (the entire lot is rather rotten and corrupt – or corruptible), there’s something amusing about how dastardly and conniving the two leads can be, engaging in errant games of coercion and blackmail, attempts to undermine and dismantle associates, and goals of controlling and exploiting everyone they encounter. And all of their schemes involve sexual conquests. It’s an edgy drama in line with “Wild Things” from the year before, hoping to draw in audiences with its sexy cast, current soundtrack (the introductory song by Placebo is thoroughly fitting), and provocative topics, here using verbal interactions more than visualizations to push the boundaries of its R-rating. But despite the intrigue of the manipulation and backstabbing, it can’t help but to be largely spurious in its feeling; the youthful cast isn’t fully able to persuade of motives, realizations, and, ultimately, the outcome (the finale can’t live up to the gutsiness of the start). And it all carries on a touch too long. “People don’t change overnight.”

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10