When Choderlos de Laclos wrote Dangerous Liaisons in 1778, he probably wasn’t thinking about Santa Barbara. Nonetheless, somebody else managed to connect our picture-perfect town with de Laclos’ story about the sex games played by French aristocrats for “Cruel Intentions 3” – a direct-to-DVD threequel that technically isn’t soft-core porn, but still makes you feel sleazy when you watch it.
Alexander Payne’s “Sideways” generated a lot of interest locally by being set in Santa Barbara County. Residents could walk to the multiplex and slap down their eight dollars too see pictures of the place they live in. But all this interest in locally set, locally filmed movies has neglected this second-generation offspring of the 1999 update of “Cruel Intentions,” in which Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Phillippe made incest seem fun.
Any doubts that director Scott Ziehl used actual Santa Barbara locales for “Cruel Intentions 3” are quickly dispelled by the film’s opening shot – the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport. Any local frequent flyer will identify this tiny airstrip one of the most picturesque in the state. And it’s at this spot that we meet our protagonists, Jason Argyle (Kerr Smith, formerly of “Dawson’s Creek”) and Cassidy Merteuil (Kristina Anapau), both of whom have flown in to begin another year at Prestridge, a pretentiously named fictional university that combines Westmont affluence with UCSB libido.
The script hastily ties the West Coast action to the original films by explaining that Cassidy is the cousin of Kathryn, the schemer Gellar played in the original “Cruel Intentions.” Kathryn, we’re told, has since traded in her posh Manhattan digs for residency at a methadone clinic. Anapau, a poor man’s Charisma Carpenter, oozes creepiness when she should burn with seduction. Though her skank-zombie character couldn’t get picked up in Isla Vista if she queefed beer, she’s somehow the hottest girl at Prestridge.
The film’s plot boils down to a series of escalating sexual bets – or, like, something. I hoped the bets would spiral wildly out of control – “Dude, I will give you a $10,000 if you do your dad” – but they don’t. Instead, one of the lead characters (Nathan Wetherington) blackmails and then rapes a naíve coed, and you lose any sympathy you might have had for the protagonists.
Yes, “Cruel Intentions 3” sucks just as much as you’d think it would, but it still worth a rent to see our hometown depicted as a luxury resort – and the setting of a spinoff of a movie most of us sat through in high school. It sounds ridiculous, but there’s fun inherent to seeing smutty escapades unfold at, say, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art or under the downtown pier. And who knows – for all the average UCSB student knows, “Cruel Intentions 3” portrays the local well-to-do lifestyle fairly and accurately.
Sure, it would have been better if the film had taken place at UCSB – just think about seeing the lagoon digitally altered to sparkle clear blue – but locals may want to slap this clunker on their Netflix queue nonetheless.
Just be sure to steer clear of “Cruel Intentions 4: Freaky in Fresno.”