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CRUEL INTENTIONS ($30) is a seriously underrated film adaptation of Choderlos de Laclos novel LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES, which was brought to the screen in its best known incarnation as 1988's DANGEROUS LIAISONS. Writer and first time director Roger Kumble transposes the setting to present day New York, where the principle players are the over-privileged youth of Manhattan socialites, instead of members of 18th century French aristocracy. CRUEL INTENTIONS stars Sarah Michelle Gellar as Kathryn Merteuil and Ryan Phillippe as her stepbrother Sebastian Valmont. Both Kathryn and Sebastian are equally gifted manipulators who play the game of seduction and conquest like grand masters of chess. Because Sebastian has had just about every attractive debutante on the social circuit, he's grown bored seducing the same type of girl and has set his eyes on a greater challenge. Reese Witherspoon portrays Annette Hargrove, a self-proclaimed "virgin until marriage" who just happens to move into Sebastian's social circle. Sebastian is confident that Annette will succumb to his charms, however Kathryn is convinced that her stepbrother will fail in the attempt to deflower the virgin. With his reputation on the line, Sebastian agrees to a small wager. If he loses, Kathryn takes possession of his classic car. If he wins, Sebastian gets the one thing he has never had- the pleasure of bedding Kathryn.

CRUEL INTENTIONS could have been a shamefully silly exercise in eroticism had it not been for the superb performances of its youthful cast. Sarah Michelle Gellar is not only hauntingly beautiful, but she plays Kathryn to perfection. Gellar exudes the heat of Kathryn's sexual desire, while at the same time maintaining the character's icy unapproachable nature. There is definitely life after BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER for this very talented actress. Ryan Phillippe, whom I disliked immensely in I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, gives the character of Sebastian an underlying humanity that lends credibility to the character's ultimate transformation. Reese Witherspoon, who was key to the success of PLEASANTVILLE, continues to prove her versatility. Ms. Witherspoon never allows her virgin character to become an insipid goody-goody, which only serves to intensify Annette's relationship with Sebastian. The biggest surprise in CRUEL INTENTIONS is the wonderfully funny performance that comes from Selma Blair, who portrays the nave Cecile Caldwell. Up until the very end, Cecile remains the clueless target of Kathryn's venom, yet the character never becomes a joke thanks to Selma Blair's fresh and delightful performance. The first rate cast of CRUEL INTENTIONS also features Louise Fletcher, Joshua Jackson, Sean Patrick Thomas, Eric Mabius, Tara Reid, Christine Baranski and Swoosie Kurtz, who just happened to appear in DANGEROUS LIAISONS.

Columbia TriStar Home Video has made CRUEL INTENTIONS available in both full screen and anamorphic enhanced wide screen versions on separate layers of the single sided DVD. The full screen version crops the image somewhat, but remains watchable. However, prepare to be blown away by the 16:9 enhanced wide screen presentation. The fantastic transfer meticulously reproduces Theo Van de Sande's luscious cinematography, as well as accurately framing CRUEL INTENTIONS at 1.85:1. Everything appears sharp and well defined, without being exaggerated. Shadow detail is very good, plus the image creates a very accurate black level. Colors are sumptuous, while the flesh tones are very natural. There are no problems with either chroma noise or digital compression artifacts on this beautifully authored DVD.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack is competently mixed and sounds quite good, but it never calls attention to itself. Dialogue is very clean and usually remains tightly focused in the center channel. Contemporary songs, which usually signifies additional soundtrack dollars, are faithfully recreated in the mix. Additionally, bass reproduction is pretty good, however it is called into play mostly for the music. Subtitles are provided on the DVD in English.

The interactive menus have a simple, but elegant design that allows one to access the standard scene and setup features, as well as the disc's supplements. CRUEL INTENTIONS is a collector's edition that features a number of solid extras. There is a filmmakers' commentary that features director Roger Kumble and other members of the production team. The commentary is informative, but presented in a laid back and highly enjoyable manner. Also included are six deleted scenes, a making of featurette, Creative Intentions: Finding a Visual Style, two music videos, a theatrical trailer and cast biographies/filmographies.

As I stated above, CRUEL INTENTIONS is a seriously underrated little film. If you are tempted- this great DVD edition is the best way to take the plunge. Recommended.




DVD reviews are Copyright 1999 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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