I'll admit that I'm pleasantly surprised by the completely wicked movie that is "Cruel Intentions." I expected it to have a lot more sex, money, and corruption. A lewd, "Wild Things"-ish movie that knows its place. Unexpectedly, the movie actually had some family values, epitomized by Reese Witherspoon's Annette Hargrove. Admittedly, what confused me was the film's schizophrenia. For the first half it's this tongue-in-cheek, deliciously evil farce about the lives of spoiled rich kids; for the second half it turns into a sort of bittersweet romance intertwined with lessons about life. Thankfully, this discrepancy wasn't too distracting because the movie cleverly held on to all its essential characters without dropping them off suddenly like some movies are too apt to do; and Sarah Michelle's Gellar bitch-from-hell character Kathryn remained determinedly evil until the very end. No conversion crap.
The movie's got a lot of spunk: this is evident a couple of minutes into the film, when Kathryn, with an angelic smile, tells Christine Baranski's character that whenever she's in trouble, she turns to God in the form of a cross worn around her neck. As soon as she's alone, we see her snuffing the cocaine that's hidden inside the cross. The character in large part contributes to the film's charisma. Ryan Philippe plays a character similar to his role in "Playing by Heart," but he surprised me with his ability to portray the inherently cruel. Kudos to Gellar this time for actually belonging in a movie she deserves. It's amazing that she can play the innocent, down-to-earth girl in the disastrous "Simply Irresistible" and become the manipulative ice queen here. She made the skins of movie-goers crawl with hatred. I will give credit to the film though for giving Kathryn and edge of vulnerability and some ambiguity. Who knows if she's really in love with Sebastian and just has a, ahem, drastic way of expressing her feelings? Tired of being trapped in the confines of the upper-class? After all, she is one messed up girl. I also liked how Sebastian and Kathryn are able to transform from perfect private school students into immoral sexaholics. I'd have been fooled. Their relationship is one-of-a-kind, of course, and it was a treat being able to muse on what direction it might take. Of course, hatred gained the upperhand. Reese Witherspoon does a good job, just a little weaker than the others, as Miss Morals; and whoever-it-was that played Cecile is gonna give Molly Shannon a run for her money. The only character that lacked much dimension was Ronald.
At first glance "Cruel Intentions" is just another made-for-teenagers sexy tale of betrayal, seduction, and irresponsible behavior. However, I do believe it has more depth to it that only adds to the enjoyment of the sometimes juvenile sexual innuendo and delightfully enticing characters, characters who manage to earn pity despite their behavior. The death of Sebastian was an unexpected and much-welcomed twist that elevates the film out of the "guilty indulgence" category. The ultimate ("bittersweet") triumph belongs to Annette, who forced Kathryn to contradict her own words: "People do change." The lesson? Maybe nice girls do finish first.
Rating: B (First viewing, 3/5/99)