Cruel Intentions

1999, Movie, R, 97 mins


A pair of overprivileged and uncommonly perverse stepsiblings is up to no good in this deliciously trashy reworking of Choderlos de Laclos' 1782 novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Sebastian Valmont (Ryan Phillippe) and his stepsister Kathryn Merteuil (Sarah Michelle Gellar) are two pretty and preternaturally debauched rich kids sitting out the summer in their parents' sprawling Fifth Avenue mansion before returning to Manchester, their exclusive prep school. Sebastian, who's seduced and abandoned just about every teenage girl in the Manhattan Social Register, is on the lookout for a real conquest. Kathryn, an evil little number who stashes her coke in a crucifix, is looking for revenge: She was dumped for Cecile Caldwell (Selma Blair), a dim-witted deb whose mother (Christine Baranski), anxious that her daughter should succeed at Manchester, has conveniently placed her under Kathyrn's tutelage. Kathryn dares Sebastian to corrupt Cecile, but he's more intrigued by the far greater challenge of bedding Annette Hargrove (Reese Witherspoon), the new headmaster's virginal daughter. So Kathryn proposes a challenge: If Sebastian will help turn out Cecile and deflower Annette, she'll be his for a night. If he fails, Kathryn gets Sebastian's vintage Jaguar. Deceptions, blackmail and all manner of sexual intrigue follow -- the stuff that makes high school so much like an 18th century epistolary novel. It's tremendous fun, thanks largely to a smarter-than-average script and some fierce casting. Phillippe has a little trouble playing mad, bad and dangerous to know, but the film really belongs to the girls: Witherspoon sports some serious acting chops, newcomer Blair is a hoot and Gellar, in her slinky silks and black-widow shades, seems positively born to the role. Not many actors can actually deliver a line like "I hate it when things don't go my way. It makes me so horny!" and make it play. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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