Cruel Intentions 2

             Feeling that there was more life in the story of Cruel Intentions, a
     modern-day teen version of Choderlos de Laclos' epistolary fiction
Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Fox Television and Columbia TriStar
     commissioned writer-director Roger Kumble to turn the film into a weekly
     hour-long drama to be called
"Manchester Prep". When the two
     production companies came to an impasse over the direction of the show,
     however, the series was scrapped, despite three episodes having been
     completed. In a bid to rescue what could be salvaged, enterprising
     executives allowed Kumble to redub some dialogue (adding curse words)
     and to shoot some extra footage (including a shower scene involving
     female "kissing cousins"). The finished product was repackaged as the
     direct-to-video release
Cruel Intentions 2.

             The series obviously was going to expand on the ideas in the
     original, but this video is meant to serve as prequel to the events in the
     1999 feature film.
Cruel Intentions had several things going for it:
     surprising fidelity to the original source material and strong central
     performances from Daytime Emmy winner Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan
     Phillippe and, most particularly, Reese Witherspoon as the virginal
     daughter of the school's headmaster. While critics were generally
     dismissive of
Cruel Intentions, it found an audience on video and cable.
             Of course none of the principals are on board for the prequel, so
     this cast has large shoes to fill and in virtually every case, the
     newcomers pale in comparison with the originals. Canadian actor Robin
     Dunne is cast as Sebastian Valmont, here a poor boy whose father
     has married well. A born manipulator, Sebastian finds himself moving
     to Manhattan to live with his philandering father (David McIlwraith) and
     his wealthy stepmother (Mimi Rogers) while his mother spends time at
     a rehab clinic. Added into the mix is his new stepsister, the cunning and
     vixenish Kathryn Merteuil (Amy Adams). Just as much an operator as
     Sebastian, Kathryn plots against her new stepbrother.

             Much of the drama is given over to various subplots. Student body
     president Kathryn seeks revenge against a ditsy freshman (former teen
     beauty queen Keri Lynn Pratt) while Sebastian pursues a romance with
     the headmaster's daughter Danielle (Sarah Thompson, who has a
     recurring role on the Fox series
"Boston Public"). Since the material
     was originally intended for the small screen, it plays well in the video
     format, but if judged by the same standards as a feature film,
Cruel Intentions 2 doesn't quite make the grade. Dunne, while less
     attractive than Phillippe, tries to invest Sebastian with a sense of
     humanity. On the other hand, Adams lacks the requisite skills to make
     Kathryn believable. (Gellar was able to project the appropriately haughty
     qualities and walked the perfect line, never moving the character into
     camp territory.) Pratt has fun with her role as the
nouveau riche
     freshman who lacks polish and class. Thompson acquits herself as
     the morally upright Danielle.

             Kumble tried to be both faithful to the original source material but
     in a manner that would open up possibilities for a weekly series, but this
     version is pedestrian in comparison with the 1999 film. Since
Cruel Intentions 2 is a hybrid, though, Kumble and company cannot
     fully be held accountable. Undoubtedly if he intended to produce a
     straightforward two-hour original prequel, the writer-director would
     have made certain that the script was less meandering, undoubtedly
     stripping out several subplots that seemingly go nowhere (like the
     troubles in the marriage between Sebastian's father and Kathryn's
     mother). Instead, the cast and crew is left holding a mixed bag that
     I would suspect most would like to strike from their resumes.

                                     Rating:                 C-
                                     MPAA Rating:         R (brief nudity, language,
                                                                     sexual situations)
© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.