Bil’s rating (out of 5): B.
USA, 1999. Columbia Pictures Corporation, Cruel Productions LLC, Newmarket Capital Group, Original Film. Screenplay by Roger Kumble, based on the novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos. Cinematography by Theo van de Sande. Produced by Neal H. Moritz. Music by Ed Shearmur. Production Design by Jon Gary Steele. Costume Design by Denise Wingate. Film Editing by Jeff Freeman.
Modern update of Les Liaisons Dangereuses claims to be based on Choderlos De Laclos’ 18th century novel but is actually a scene-for-scene remake of the 1988 Stephen Frears film Dangerous Liaisons (which was very different from the original novel). The film is a particularly good example of how someone can ruin a great story by trying too hard: director Roger Kumble adapts the story’s mechanics faithfully, translating such easy icons as the French aristocracy to modern-day New York Upper Class WASPs, and rendering each scene recognizable for what its original counterpart was. However, he never adequately recreates the treacherous world that the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont inhabited in that classic film, leaving character interactions that are empty and embarrassingly overripe. Sarah Michelle Gellar is the n’er-do-weller who gets her equally conquest-hungry stepbrother (Ryan Phillippe) to agree to a wager: she bets him he can’t seduce innocent Selma Blair in time to ruin her reputation and get her dumped by the same man who rejected Gellar previously. He himself has his own project in mind: to seduce and destroy a Virgin Queen (Reese Witherspoon) who has insisted that sex before marriage is not at all in her cards. In Dangerous Liaisons, the idea of exposing a young lady as being a non-virgin before her wedding day was enough to get her hanged; here it’s just a petty schoolgirl out to get revenge on a former flame, and therefore there’s really no compelling drama worth paying attention to. It was a much smaller world that these characters were originally living in, and Kumble forgot to adapt that particular aspect of the story. Gellar and Philippe give positively lame performances, and Witherspoon only fares slightly better by virtue of her already being so much more talented. Features a cameo by Swoosie Kurtz, who was also in Liaisons.