May 5, 2001 -- "Cruel Intentions" is one of those guilty pleasures (a term used by Roger Ebert) to describe a movie which makes you ashamed of yourself when you enjoy it. This film is one of several based on the novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses, written by Choderlos de Laclos, 1741-1803. It depicts young, spoiled, rich kids with nothing to do for kicks but to make others suffer.
Sebastian Valmont (played by Ryan Phillippe of "54") and his step-sister Kathryn Merteuil (Sarah Michelle Gellar) place a bet to start the story. If Valmont can successfully seduce Annette Hargrove (Reese Witherspoon of "Pleasantville") he gets to have sex with Merteuil. If he fails, Merteuil gets his classic Jaguar, which is worth enough money to feed half the people of Uganda for a year. Along the way, the two manage to screw up the lives of Cecile Caldwell (Selma Blair of "Down to You") and Ronald Clifford (Sean Patrick Thomas of "Can't Hardly Wait").
Although Valmont, and especially Merteuil, are quite nasty, I couldn't help but laugh at some of their pranks, even though I really shouldn't have. Some of these schemes are similar to "In the Company of Men," but they aren't played as seriously, at least at first. In the last act, however, the story does turn serious, and that is where it falls apart. The screenplay tries to exact a measure of justice, but it falls short. After all, when one person dies as a result of these little games, the infliction of embarassment on the offender hardly evens the scales of justice. The story works better when it sticks to comedy.
Phillippe, who acted so poorly in "Antitrust," actually is believable in this film. The sultry Gellar is mesmerizing as an evil seductress. Blair, who reminds me of Joan Cusack, is effective as the clueless Cecile Caldwell. The kissing scene between Gellar and Blair is one of those guilty pleasures I was talking about. Louise Fletcher has a small role in the film as Helen Rosemond. Director-Writer Roger Kumble achieves a kind of smarmy decadence in the film, using rich colors and oppulent sets and locations. This film rates a C+.
I saw this film on DVD. The picture quality was good. The collector's edition DVD has a choice of aspect ratios, the widescreen anamorphic 1.85:1 and the tube-sized 1.33:1. Sound options are Dobly (TM) 5.1 and 2.0 stereo. Extras include Audio commentary by director Roger Kumble and cinematographer Theo van de Sande, producer Neal H. Moritz, production designer Gary Steele, Jay, costume designer Denise Wingate and co-producer Heather Zeegen. There's a short documentary called "Creative Intentions: Finding a Visual Style," six deleted scenes from the movie are included and two music videos, "Every You, Every Me" by Placebo and "Coming Up from Behind" by Marcy Playground.
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