Kathryn makes a bet that her step-brother, Sebastian, won't be able to bed Annette (a virgin, who wants to wait until love). If he loses, Kathryn gets his Jaguar, if he wins, he gets Kathryn.
Once upon a time, in the late 1990's, in a world far, far away know as Manhattan, a bunch of beautiful, scantily-stylish teenagers delved into the very grown-up games of seduction and deceit. Wait, isn't that that same plot as the CW's Gossip Girl? Never mind, this is Manchester Prep, the setting of Cruel Intentions, and (dare I say it) the precursor for Gossip Girl.
Cruel Intentions is the latest remake of the 18th century French play "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" by Choderlos de Laclos. Writer/Director Roger Kumble makes his directorial debut with his version of the play. Milos Forman previously tackled the play with his1989 bomb Valmont, but it was Stephen Frears’ critically successful 1989 remake "Dangerous Liaisons," that many remember. Although those aren't the only two remakes (several more have been made since the 1950's in both English and French), the best known is Frears’ Dangerous Liaisons because of its superb casting. I won’t go on and on, but let's just say that it would be difficult for any actor to live up to the performances by Glenn Close and John Malkovich in that film, let alone Sarah Michelle Geller and Ryan Phillippe.
Cruel Intentions takes the French play and updates it to a modern Manhattan high school where the rich roam free of the rules of parents, teachers, and suburban society. The Queen Bee is Kathryn (Geller), a facade of kindness, good grades, and
Things change when Kathryn bets Sebastian that won't be able to bed the new headmaster's virginal daughter Annette (Witherspoon). If Sebastian fails, Kathryn wins his beautiful sports car, if he wins; he gets to spend the night with Kathryn. Witherspoon's Annette is the most successful role of the film. The viewer believes that Reese is genuinely waiting for true love before she has sex for the first time, yet she remains likable, without becoming the diabetically sweet, goody-two shoes cliché that happens so often with Christian characters. Sebastian, like the audience, is drawn in by Annette's goodness and honesty, making it hard for him to fulfill his end of the bet.
No worries, Sebastian isn't going long without sex.
A second scheme leaves Sebastian going after Cecille, a new freshman that Kathryn plans to devirginize purely out of spite. Just as Witherspoon's acting is the highlight of the film, Blair's is the lowlight. Although the character of Cecille is supposed to be naive of sex, Blair plays the role as if the Cecille has never heard of sex in her entire life. Her super-naïveté is not only annoying, but seems completely out of place for the time and setting of the movie. Granted she was in boarding school, but I doubt that she has never opened a magazine or watched a movie. Blair over-acting of the role makes her scenes (especially those with Phillippe) contrived and ridiculous.
Phillippe and Witherspoon began dating during the filming, and that chemistry is present in the scenes they share. The heat between the two is evident even in the scenes where the two are arguing. Phillippe and Geller lack the hatred and the sexual angst necessary to make their relationship intense. The lackluster rivalry creates a boundary between the plot and the audience. On one hand, you are suppose to believe that they the rivalry and the schemes are tantamount, and on the other hand you are forced to think, “Oh yeah, they are in high school. Dude, get over it.” That is where remaking a French play for modern day gets tricky. It is one thing to lose your entire reputation in 18th century France where you livelihood depends on it; it is less believable when you are in high school, and at any moment you can use daddy’s credit card to jet off to the Caribbean if everyone hates you.
The stylish clothes, upbeat music, and the beautiful actors, make this film a fun, if unbelievable, romp. Make it a must-see on your rental list once Gossip Girl goes into re-runs. It will help satisfy the craving.