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Reviews: Dangerous intentions but some wicked fun; Mike Davies takes a look at the latest cinema releases.

CRUEL INTENTIONS

CERT 15. 95 MINS

The high schoolisation of classic literature continues with this revamp of Choderlos De Laclos' 18th century novel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

Already given a period workout by Stephen Frears as Dangerous Liaisons and Milos Forman with Valmont, this sets the action in contemporary Manhattan but otherwise remains pretty much faithful to the original.

And, as Sebastian Valmont, Ryan Phillipe makes a convincing attempt at impersonating John Malkovich's ennui-laden turn for Frears, even down to a trademark finger to the lip.

The main difference in director Roger Kumble's telling is that the socially upscale sexual schemers, heartless seducer Valmont and coke-snorting manipulative bitch Kathryn Merteuil (played by TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer and recently voted sexiest woman in the world, Sarah Michelle Gellar) are step-siblings and the lust crackling between them could provide electricity for a small town.

It is, however, to remain unconsummated unless Valmont can make good on his wager that he can seduce Annette (Reese Witherspoon), the new headmaster's virginal daughter who's proclaimed that she's saving herself for Mr Right.

Do it and he gets a no-restrictions night with Kathryn, fail and she gets his cool classic Jag.

He also has to bed Kathryn's cousin, the naively innocent Cecile (Selma Blair) and make her a sexually-insatiable slut as part of Kathryn's revenge on the guy who dumped her to become Cecile's fiance.

The latter part of the plan goes smoothly (although wrinkles begin to appear along the line) but Valmont's agenda for Annette becomes complicated when, for the first time in his life, he actually begins to fall in love and discover an inconvenient sense of morality.

Since duels to the death tend not to take place among wealthy Manhattanite schoolkids, the tragic denouement doesn't quite carry the same punch, and purists will also take exception to the moral lesson pay-off and the enthusiasm with which the supposedly defiantly chaste Annette responds to Valmont's rather obvious machinations.

But, sizzling with a smouldering eroticism, rippling with sexual innuendo and pivoting round Gellar and Phillipe's knowingly arch performances, this is hugely enjoyable, wickedly black, high gloss fun.

THE INHERITORS

CERT 15 95 MINS

SUBTITLED

Released in the States under the rather less enticing title of The One Seventh Farmers, this German melodrama describes itself as an Alpine Western, sauerkraut rather than spaghetti.

It remains at heart a social class allegory.

The setting is rural Austria in the 30s and the story gets under way when a local farmer is found with his throat cut and a mysterious, silent woman is taken into custody.

There are surprises all round for the community when, cutting right across tradition, the dead man's will leaves the land to his tenant labourers who, rather than following their foreman's urgings to flog it off to a blustering neighbouring landowner, decide to run it as a collective.

This sets off a whole string of underhand feuding and plotting, romantic relationships and, as things turn nastier, several unpleasant murders and dark revelations about doltish Lukas's background. It is never less than intriguing, even if you can see some of the twists coming, but the attempts at fusing German rustic comedy with class satire and thriller never fully gel and Stefan Ruzowtsky's rather stolid direction and the lumpen voice-over make stretches something of a slog.

BRIDE OF CHUCKY

CERT 18. 89 MINS

Wisely dumping the Child's Play title and any connection with kids following the hysterical and misguided tabloid furore surrounding Child's Play 3 in the Jamie Bulger murder, Ronnie Yu and writer Don Mancini resurrect the franchise with a knowing touch of Scream self-mockery to its combination of sick black humour and gross-out.

Working with a Bride of Frankenstein scenario, it turns out the serial killer Charles Lee Ray had a trailer trash girlfriend ("I'll kill anyone, but I'll only sleep with someone I love") before his spirit wound up in the body of the killer doll (voiced by Brad Dourif).

And, under the misguided impression that he'd intended to marry her, Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly in full swelling bosom, chewing gum voice, bimbo mode again) rescues the remains from the evidence locker (where it's stored alongside Freddy's glove, Leatherface's Texas chainsaw and Jason's Halloween mask), stitches them back together and, with the help of Voodoo For Dummies, brings the now somewhat less cute looking Chucky back to life.

It's not, however, the happiest of reunions with her toy boy and it's not long before Tiff has joined the ranks of the walking plastic too (surely only an accident that she looks like Debbie Harry, or at least that's what they're telling her lawyers).

Both have engineered it for a couple of unwitting teen runaways to deliver them to the cemetery where Ray's buried to recover the amulet that will restore them to human form.

Needless to say, the Unnatural Born Killers leave a bloody trail in their wake. Too jokey to be scary, it's often unbelievably crude and nauseatingly gross, but on the other hand you have to admire the rather ingenious set piece of death by ceiling mirror and champagne and the sheer audacity of perhaps the most over the top splatter scene ever.

As gleefully acted as you'd expect from such silly nonsense and rather more sharply written than you'd imagine, it's pure heavy metal shock-horror comedy. Quite appropriately, it winds up with a graveyard scene that, in one final burst of bad taste, neatly sets things up for the Son Of Chucky sequel. Can't wait.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 18, 1999
Words:915
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