Writer/director Roger Kumble follows in the footsteps of Roger Vadim, Milos Forman, and Stephen Frears by making adaptation number four of Choderlos do Laclos’ novel, “Les Liasons Dangereuses”. His twist is the trendy route of setting it in high school.
Kathryn Merteuil (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Sebastian Valmont (Ryan Philippe) are half-brother and sister living in Manhattan. Ultra-rich, the pair get the family penthouse to themselves for the summer. Sebastian, bad-boy lothario, is bored after apparently bedding every girl in town.
When Kathryn, amoral, bulimic head-case, is dumped by her boyfriend for the innocent Cecile Caldwell (Selma Blair), she schemes revenge by destroying Cecile’s reputation. She challenges Sebastian to deflower her and transform her into a tramp to humiliate Court.
Sebastian isn’t too interested. He has his sights set on Annette Hargrove (Reese Witherspoon), the new headmaster’s daughter. Annette had written an article for Seventeen Magazine on how she plans to stay a virgin until she finds her one true love. Kathryn makes a wager. If Sebastian fails to lure Annette into bed before the summer is over, Kathryn gets his car. If he succeeds, he can have Kathryn, anyway he wants her. Sebastian takes the bet.
Well, everyone gives it their best, but there are problems. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” tries her hardest, but she’s not quite ready to play pure evil. I don’t know whether it’s the reedy voice, or what, but the part requires a display of repressed anger at all times. She’s not Glenn Close. Valmont is the easier part and Philippe handles it well, but Gellar has to be the engine of destruction that drives the film. The nice thing that Kumble does is to actually have the actors play it like seventeen-year-olds. They’re not kids saying adult lines all the time. They do juvenile things, and don’t realize the repercussions of their actions.
The real revelation is Selma Blair. Yet another refugee from the WB Network (“Zoe, Duncan, Jack, and Jane”), she transforms from a colossal dork to a sexually awakened animal. She blows everyone else off the screen.
In the end, the whole shebang comes off like a bunch of snotty, rich white kids screwing each other and screwing each other over. I don’t know how it’s going to sell to the mall set, but with Gellar, Blair, and Joshua Jackson from “Dawson’s Creek”, I’m sure this dubbuh-dubbuh-dubbuh WB love fest will find its way to its target audience. Meanwhile, I sit in anxious anticipation for the onslaught of high school-Shakespeare (“Star Wars”, just keep thinking “Star Wars” and you’ll be okay).