It's a little late in the day, but Hollywood's teen machine seems to have woken up to the fact that there really is no substitute for a good story. And like, there's loads of them out there already, man. Just ask writer-director Roger Kumble, who's exhumed Choderlos De Laclos' thrice-filmed 18th-century erotic novel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses. As ideas go, this oneâs pretty neat.
Updated and transplanted to Manhattan's Upper East Side, Laclos' devious tale's complete with all its blackmail and double-crosses" makes for a cute parallel with the daily pattern of teenage life. For while Sebastian and Kathryn are richer and more beautiful than most school kids, they're not crueller. Sadly though, Kumble's neat idea is sunk by sloppy execution. One example: the plot so slavishly follows the source that these characters must be the only teenagers in America to still hand-write letters to each other. Indeed, apart from window dressing and the obligatory MTV soundtrack, Cruel Intentions could be anywhere, anytime.
So keen is Kumble to utilise the same mansion and penthouse backdrops of the original, that heâs set the movie during the school holidays. Quite apart from the fact that a snooty high school would have made for a brilliant setting, without hallways there is no society. And without society there are no common values. And without common values, thereâs no sin. (See where this is going?)
As for the latter-day lotharios, the two leads spark occasionally, but never convince you that these pretty teens are sexually jaded. It doesn't help that Gellar has obviously signed the no-nipple clause so favoured by clean-cut TV stars. In fact, it's Witherspoon's eternal virgin who appears the most credible character" and let's face it, that ain't gonna wash with the kids.
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A fluffed opportunity. What could've been refreshing and cynical ends up being coy, tame and thoroughly stage-bound. Teens wishing to learn about sexual mores would do better watching Stephen Frears definitive take on the novel, Dangerous Liaisons.