An update of Les Liaisons Dangeureuses to the decadent world of whitebread Manhattan preppies. Hiding behind step-brother Sebastian (Phillippe), a notorious seducer, the equally corrupt but infinitely more subtle Kathryn (Gellar) schemes to avenge herself on the ex who's dumped her for the innocent Cecile (Blair). Kathryn wants Sebastian to deflower her rival, but he's more interested in the challenge of the new headmaster's daughter, a proselytising virgin (Witherspoon). A wager is struck, Seb's antique Jag against Kat's body - but the consequences go deeper than that. There's a certain frisson in seeing an American teen pic so louche and worldly about all manner of debaucheries (Kumble is an old associate of those taboo-busting Farrelly brothers), but the movie's aristo sensibility doesn't really connect, while the redemptive volte face can't help but feel false - and The Verve's 'Bittersweet Symphony' doesn't help. For all that, it's an assured piece of work. Lascivious blackmailers and inveterate immoralists, these characters behave despicably, but the movie affects a tone of urbane detachment which puts sex in its proper perspective. Once Gellar has revealed both her faces there's not much more to know about Kathryn, and Witherspoon has even less to show, but Ryan Philippe is simply irresistible in the John Malkovich role.
Cast and crew
Sarah Michelle Gellar Ryan Phillippe Reese Witherspoon Selma Blair Louise Fletcher Joshua Jackson Eric Mabius Sean Patrick Thomas Swoosie Kurtz Christine Baranski