Combustible Celluloid
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With: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Reese Witherspoon, Selma Blair, Louise Fletcher, Joshua Jackson, Eric Mabius, Sean Patrick Thomas, Swoosie Kurtz, Christine Baranski, Tara Reid
Written by: Roger Kumble, based on the novel by Choderlos de Laclos
Directed by: Roger Kumble
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual dialogue and sexual situations involving teens, language and drug use
Running Time: 97
Date: 03/05/1999

Cruel Intentions (1999)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

'Cruel' to Be Kind

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Sarah Michelle Gellar (I Know What You Did Last Summer, TV's"Buffy the Vampire Slayer"), Ryan Phillippe (Playing By Heart),and Reese Witherspoon (Pleasantville) star in CruelIntentions, based on the novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses(Dangerous Liaisons) by Choderlos De Laclos. Gellar and Phillippeplay step-siblings who make a bet that Phillippe can't seduce virginalWitherspoon, who has published her "Virgin Manifesto" in a nationalmagazine. Phillippe bets his classic 1956 Jaguar against sexual favorsfrom Gellar. Gellar meanwhile is out to destroy her ex-boyfriend'sawkward new girlfriend (played by Selma Blair, in a fine slapstickyperformance). These teens are rich Manhattanites, and they're bored,sophisticated, and slippery. Pleasure is the only thing they know.

This is a steamy, erotic movie, although very few body parts are shown. It plays heavily on teenage lust, and it pulses with it. It's potent like a baby rattlesnake, which, inexperienced, will inject all its venom in a single bite. For the first hour of the movie, the passion is palpable. Later, as certain characters abandon sexual recklessness for true love, the movie becomes cold and confused. It doesn't quite know how to handle the real thing and it drops the ball. Cruel Intentions is written and directed by Roger Kumble who had the good idea of adapting Les Liaisons Dangereuses, which focused on adults in the 18th century, to teenagers of today (it's good to know we've evolved). The movie's cinematography, set design, and costume design are all extremely elegant, and the beautiful young actors are shown off to maximum effect, like expensively bred horses. Director Kumble gets credit for his excellent pacing and for making the movie juicy, but he lacks the experience for more mature emotions. The movie is rated R, and -- no kidding -- I would take this rating seriously.

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