Privileged stepsiblings deal with their ennui by dispatching each other on dares to besmirch the reputations of their fellow NYC prep school classmates.
The film is actually a loose adaptation of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ 1782 novel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, which was successfully transmuted to the screen in 1988 as the outstanding Dangerous Liaisons. Set in modern day New York with a teen cast, Cruel Intentions is essentially Dangerous Liaisons Lite. And what a delightfully frothy rendition it is!
Kathryn Merteuil (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Sebastian Valmont (Ryan Phillippe) are stepsister and brother who could not be more bored with their luxurious Manhattan existences. Kathryn longs to be openly sexual but instead subverts her energy into acting as a popular do-gooder, at least on the surface. (During one hilarious rant, she complains about the double standard that exists and how it forces her to act like “the Marcia fucking Brady of the Upper East Side” in order to secretly get her needs met.) Sebastian is a sociopath who enjoys the spoils of being a gorgeous playboy as he carelessly pursues and dumps multiple targets.
Sarah Michelle and Ryan obviously have a blast chewing up the scenery as nasty characters with few redeeming qualities. My only wish is that Ryan hadn’t decided to apparently wax his eyebrows for this film. It’s distracting to see him looking like a drag queen with a bad dye job. But that’s just me! Who am I – the style police?
Tell me honestly – do my eyebrows look too slick?
The situation gets interesting when things don’t go their way. They decide to join forces while simultaneously placing a wager on who can successfully push their social agenda forward. The bet includes seducing clueless neophyte Cecile Caldwell (Selma Blair) and avowed virgin Annette Hargrove (Reese Witherspoon). On the line is Sebastian’s vintage Jaguar or a romp with Katherine. Let the games begin!
Trivia: Reese Witherspoon’s character mostly resists Phillippe’s advances on film; though things were all systems go off camera. The two were married and already had their first child by the time the movie came out. And that, my friends, is how you win an Oscar!
So that’s how babies are made! I’m gonna go out on a limb and say this wasn’t the most difficult part of their work day.
The script is uneven. The cast is given free reign to overact. Sebastian bullies a gay teen that is deep in the closet. Little use is made of the big names that populate the movie, some having as few as one scene. (Christine Baranski, Swoosie Kurtz, Sean Patrick Thomas, Joshua Jackson and Tara Reid all fall in this category.) The melodramatic ending will have you laughing out loud. In short, it’s all kinds of wrong and delightfully terrible. Guilty pleasures don’t get dirtier than this.
Bases are covered, featuring a little something for everyone!
Cruel Intentions holds its own as a purposefully distilled version of the classic original. My recommendation? Add it to your Netflix queue immediately! It’s slick, titillating fun that still satisfies more than a decade past its release date.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time you see Reese’s character clad in white and Sarah Michelle’s dressed head to toe in black. It’s symbolic, y’all!
Take a Drink: every time the wicked stepsiblings hatch a naughty plan.
Take a Drink: every time Cecile (Selma Blair) stumbles around like a newborn filly that hasn’t learned how to use her legs.