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Review by Andrew Manning (10/98)

Release: 1999, Sony
Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Reese Witherspoon, Selma Blair, Sean Patrick Thomas
Director: Roger Kumble
MPAA Rating: [R] violence, language, sexuality
Genre: Thriller


On the campus of a private school, Sebastian Valmont (Phillippe) and his stepsister Kathryn (Gellar) see sex merely as an amusing game of manipulation. Their latest bet involves seducing the headmaster's daughter (Witherspoon), and sets off a web of double crossing. A contemporary adaptation of Dangerous Liaisons.


I'll be bluntly honest: I saw this movie only because it starred Sarah Michelle Gellar (herein referred to as "Buffy"). And I'll be bluntly honest a second time: the highlight of the entire movie was getting to see Buffy slip the tongue to another girl (Selma Blair, in this case). To quote a friend of mine: "Like Metallica says, 'Nothing else matters.'"

Male fantasies aside, though, the most notable thing about this movie is, surprisingly, Ryan Phillippe's performance as the slick, manipulative Sebastian Valmont. Until he becomes a cream puff decimated by "true love" by the fourth quarter of the film, he's a cruel, devious son of a bitch that's got all the moves down cold. There's a twisted sort of humor prevalent throughout the film, and it's good for some laughs.

Selma Blair, who plays a nervous, awkward girl experiencing her "sexual awakening," provides even more comedy in the otherwise dark plot. And of course, Buffy is always good because Buffy is Buffy. She's taken a departure from her relatively squeaky clean image on television and pulled off being a sexy, dangerous minx. But even though I dig Buffy, I have to remain objective, and so, on to the bad...


Ironically, the one element that will make people see this movie (the casting of Buffy and other "teen" stars) turns out to be the downfall. Despite capable performances, it's simply too difficult to take any of them seriously. Their level of craftiness better befits an older, more mature cast. Sure, Buffy might try to freak you out with plans to destroy your life...but isn't this a school night?

Reese Witherspoon's character is unfortunately trite and one dimensional. The real message conveyed by her goes something like this: lust supersedes commitment, love, and any morales you might have had.

Cruel Intentions screams soap opera melodrama. In fact, according to a co-worker, Buffy is pretty much back to the role she played on the soap opera All My Children ("evil daughter bitch Kendall"). And don't even get me started on Ryan Phillippe's character turning into a wimp throughout the film...that just about deflated the whole movie, and crushed any intensity the filmmakers had been building up. Cruel Intentions starts off as a twisted, messed up mind game, but ends up a typically sappy love story that, strangely, isn't even about love. Even Wild Things had more teeth than this...

Rating: 4 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)

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