Volume 92, Issue 84
Tuesday, March 9, 1999
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Sexy teen flick goes limp in Cruel Intentions
Photo by Bob Frame
By Anthony Turow
Cruel Intentions, a modern day update of Dangerous Liaisons, is a very bad movie.
One may go expecting a naughty, shameless bit of viewer friendly trash in the same vein as last year's Wild Things. One would then be very, very disappointed. Katherine (Sarah Michelle Gellar), makes a bet with her step brother Sebastian (Ryan Phillipe) that he can't de-flower their headmaster's virginal daughter, Annette (Reese Witherspoon). If he doesn't, Katherine gets his vintage Jaguar. If he does, he gets to have his way with Katherine.
Chaos ensues! Feelings get hurt! Pretty young actresses talk like sailors! The audience is bored stiff.
The film's most glaring flaw is a cast which gives incompetence a good name. Gellar is so laughably terrible it's almost painful to watch her scenes. The hard-assed Katherine is such a horrible mismatch for her image, it's like Pauly Shore playing Othello. Actors may want to expand their range, but please, know your limitations first.
Gellar probably wants to try and show her Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans she can do more than kick undead ass. What she ends up doing is choosing a role which is such a polar opposite from the virtuous Buffy it becomes distracting. She is simply unconvincing.
Phillipe's performance is so wooden he's in need of shellac. He seems to think standing around with a slightly seductive smirk constitutes serious acting. If it did, Cindy Crawford would be a top box office draw.
He says his lines with no charisma, lacking even the slightest hint of expression necessary to convey the emotional urgency his scenes should have projected. This can be a problem when you're the central character.
The only person who escapes unscathed is Witherspoon. The role of the virginal Annette merely requires her to look sweet and smile. She does this very well, if nothing else.
Although not particularly memorable, she is still miles ahead of her co-stars in terms of screen presence. Witherspoon can hold your attention for more than a couple of seconds and dialogue at least sounds believable when coming out of her mouth.
The script by Roger Kumble, who also directed the film, is a big stumbling block. The dialogue he pens for some of the characters shifts from ridiculously archaic to explicitly vulgar. It sounds forced, not biting and sophisticated as probably intended. Even the most talented thespian would have trouble wringing any credibility from this schlock.
There is no satisfying payoff in terms of some getting their comeuppance, as things merely plod along until the plot runs out of steam. The cinematic conventions to which Kumble resorts in order to end the story are ludicrous.
For Kumble, acting and plot take a back seat to cinematography and production design. Making his actors and sets look as lavish and beautiful as possible must have seemed more important than putting intelligent things in their mouths.
The movie's greatest sin though, is depriving the audience its previewed promise a countless unapologetic, sexy romp. All the characters in Cruel Intentions talk about being bad, but little else. Four letter words are tossed around for little more than to shock. They talk so much about sex you hope they'll either shut up or start having it.
Copyright © The Gazette 1999