Critics Score: 49% Audience Score: 81% IMDb: 6.1
With a serious divergence in the critics’ and audience scores, Cruel Intentions is one of those films that could be extremely good or bad depending on how you choose to watch it. Do you see it as an aspiring erotic thriller or a cheesy B-movie romance masquerading as one? If you went into this movie expecting a tautly written story of debauchery and deviance, you would unwittingly be disappointed. But setting your expectations a little lower is bound to create a more enjoyable movie experience. This Cruel Intentions review will show you why.
Cruel Intentions sets the stage for a pair of step-siblings who decides to hold an indecent wager. Sebastian Valmont (Ryan Phillippe) is a womanizing highschooler, his sexual exploits part of New York City folklore, while Kathryn Merteuil, his stepsister, presents a polar opposite image to New York’s elite social circles. In reality, though, her behavior is not much different from Sebastian’s, only that she exercises a greater degree of caution in keeping her dalliances under the radar.
Sebastian is brazen enough to walk around town with a journal, one in which he details his many sexual conquests, and the latest entry he wishes to make in his journal is Annette Hargrove (Reese Witherspoon), the new headmaster’s daughter who’s intent on being celibate until marriage. Kathryn doubts Sebastian’s charm and guile to pull off the endeavor, leading to a wager. If Sebastian fails, Kathryn seizes possession of his stepbrother’s 1956 Jaguar. But if he wins, he gets to bed the woman he truly desires, his stepsister Kathryn herself.
It’s a sickening proposition made even worse by the skin-crawling screen presence that is Sebastian Valmont. Bereft of any authentic charisma or charm, Sebastian’s methods of seduction are abrasive and overly reliant on his obnoxious tone, earned through the status and wealth of his parents, themselves entirely absent in the picture. The entire film hinges on the answer to one question, whether Sebastian can complete the dirty deed, and it’s this drive to see him succeed or fail that encourages the viewer to push through with each minute.
Reese Witherspoon’s turn as Annette lays bare the conventional approach to the plot’s development, whether this saint of a woman succumbs to the devilish seduction by a sex-addicted teenager or if she manages to be the one to tame his indiscriminate passions. Can a simple midnight swim by the pool change the resolute Annette’s mind after seeing Sebastian butt-naked, or is it going to take more than that? What happens when Sebastian encounters human qualities alien to him, like kindness and compassion?
Beyond Witherspoon, the true highlight happens to be Gellar, whose presence as Kathryn is fully realized in a comedic subplot involving Selma Blair. Blair’s Cecile Caldwell is dating a former flame of Kathryn’s, and her ploy to soil Cecile’s reputation enlisting Sebastian’s help fleshes out her sadistic nature more fully. It leaves her fully primed and ready for her foray into the main story featuring Annette and Sebastian, making sure everyone swims through turbulent waters.
What starts off as an exploration of twisted fantasies soon delves into mushy romantic territory. The soundtrack is equal parts high-brow erotic thriller and vintage 80s pornography starring Ron Jeremy. The subplot of the film helmed by Selma Blair has broad strokes of slapstick humor with her exaggerated behavior and juvenile temperament, even as a teenager.
Cruel Intentions is a decent watch, providing enough roundabout thrills and spills to keep you engaged until the very end. Some scenes are absurd, some scenes are funny, and some scenes are genuinely well-executed. While the movie won’t adhere to a strict thematic template, veering between sexual thriller and rom-com in equal parts, you still want to watch it and see if Sebastien Valmont can pull off the dirty deed.
- The question leading the plot, can Sebastien Valmont bed the innocent Annette Hargrove, is definitely gripping.
- Sarah Michelle Gellar as the conniving step-sister is a must-watch. She’s really good.
- There are some moments of hilarity, some intended and some otherwise.
- The movie is an interesting study of how American culture has evolved over the last several years. Expect to hear some words, phrases, and behaviors that wouldn’t be depicted quite so callously in movies today.
If you like our Cruel Intentions review, take a look at these other Romance reviews on Not So Rotten.
Movie Info (From IMDb)
Production Companies: Columbia Pictures
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Ryan Phillippe, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Selma Blair
Director: Roger Krumble
Screenwriter: Roger Krumble
Running Time: 94 minutes