Mean Pills

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Adolescents are, by their nature, heartless, randy and, as all the books inform their frantic parents, eager to test authority's limits. In other words, they have an affinity for Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Now that a young writer-director named Roger Kumble has turned Pierre Laclos's malevolent, much adapted minor masterpiece into a nastily assured teen flick, one has to wonder why it took so long for somebody to age-down its louche protagonists and update its setting.

In place of Laclos's 18th century decadents, Cruel Intentions offers us a modern prep-school Lothario (Ryan Phillippe, who looks a little like Leonardo DiCaprio on mean pills) and his half-sister (Sarah Michelle Gellar, deploying her TV vampire-slaying smarts in a lesser cause). But what they do on their summer vacation (misspent in upper-crust Manhattan and Long Island) is the same old story--an elaborate scheme to deflower a couple of virgins (Reese Witherspoon and Selma Blair) whose virtue irritates and challenges them. As in all the other versions of this story, they succeed, but eventually receive a morally satisfying comeuppance.

As if we cared. Our fascination with this tale has always derived from its cool portrayal of utter amorality, which Kumble and his cast nicely energize with their heedless, youthful intensity. This may not go over with the kid audience, which prefers to view itself onscreen as victims or heroes. But their weary parents may just get a kick out of seeing the little monsters presented as, well, the little monsters they so often are.