Sebastian Valmont - Ryan Phillippe (Playing by Heart, 54)
CatherineSarah Michelle Gellar (I Know What You Did Last Summer, TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Annette – Reese Witherspoon (Pleasantville, Freeway,   Fear, The Man In The Moon)
Cecile – Selma Blair

Director: Roger Kumble

Previews: Go!, Never Been Kissed, Drop Dead Gorgeous

Cruel Intentions is an effective, sometimes clunky, remake of the 1782 Choderlos De Laclos novel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses. This story has been done on film twice before, 1988s magnificent Dangerous Liaisons, with John Malkovich and Glenn Close, and 1989s Valmont with Annette Bening. One of the keys to this versions success is that it does not try to be better than its predecessors, but rather just to add a new twist to an old story. This, to me, is important when retelling a story.

The key characters are Sebastian and Catherine, two manipulative, spoiled rich kids. They both love using people, Catherine in an active, acerbic manner, and Sebastian, in a calm controlling one. These characters are played perfectly by Gellar and Phillippe. Gellar steals her scenes, and shows that she can effectively play a bitch for an hour and a half while Phillippe oozes of confidence in all of his actions.

The objects of their machinations, are two pictures of innocence. Cecile (Blair) is an innocent, but curious debutante daughter, and Annette (Witherspoon), a picture of virtue, who is saving herself for true love.

The transitions and games seem a bit forced at times, and Witherspoon never really seems comfortable in her role. I know she can play the innocence role, she did it wonderfully in Pleasantville, here, and she just never seems to get into it. Another key to this movie, as in every version, is the powerful conclusion; that is true here as well. The pieces of the puzzle, seemingly forced at times, all fit masterfully together for a strong ending to things. I’d also like to commend the filmmakers on the usage of music for the finale (Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony) It is a song that has been used in many commercials and such, but never more perfectly, and fittingly than it is here. Those who know the story will understand. This is one of the 90s touches that works well. Also, in a nod of tribute to the original, Swoozie Kurtz (mother in the first film) makes a cameo appearance as a put-upon shrink. It is basically a scene that has little to do with the plot, other than starting the ball rolling, and giving you a fitting introduction into everything and everyone.

The story is a tale of manipulation, and revenge, and the emotional power of both. It is a vivid vision of what goes around comes around. Some of the emotion, however, is lost in the updating. This obviously caused director Roger Kumble to feel the need to toss in some current event issues, like race and homosexuality, as icing on the story lines. Some of the scenes, such as a duel near end, lose a bit of their power in this aging. The point is still made, it just doesn’t have quite the wallop. Most of this movie is more like a slap in the face, rather than a breath stealing punch in the stomach.

Ultimately, this film is not a great one, but it is entertaining, and not a waste of an hour and a half. I did enjoy myself while watching. It plays best as a group of prettier, watchable performers, acting out a play that’s been done before. The goal is to educate a new generation; trying to relate directly to them, by the use of familiar faces, in an old story. It works on that level, stumbling a bit along the way, but finishing strong. This will never, and should never be compared previous tellings, but should serve as an effective companion piece, for those who have a hard time watching period pieces, but still want to know the story. Make an evening of it, and rent all three versions. I believe you will gain a fuller appreciation of it. ($$1/2 of $$$$)

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You can also see my reviews at the Online Film Critics Society, of which I am a proud member.