These movies arrive on video store shelves this week.

*CRUEL INTENTIONS

(R, 1999, 97 minutes, Columbia)

Roger Kumble's witty, juniorized version of 18th-century writer Choderlos de Laclos's "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" proves that a well-written piece of business -- oozing with sex, wit and nasty intrigue -- works for any generation. Ryan Phillippe and Sarah Michelle Gellar, who play the central, scheming duo, prove every bit the sexually manipulative equals of their literary predecessors. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it turns out, has fangs of her own. And Phillippe's petulant sexiness makes him a wonderfully mordant partner. There are rewarding performances, too, from Reese Witherspoon and Selma Blair as the two virginal pawns on their Machiavellian chessboard. Contains partial nudity, sexual scenes, obscenity and some violence.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE

(PG-13, 1999, 132 minutes, Warner Brothers)

Kevin Costner and Robin Wright Penn star in this zestless, "Sleepless in North Carolina" romance, in which both maneuver closer and closer to harmonic convergence while -- apparently -- the audience waits with delicious, tearful expectations in the dark. Costner plays an archetypal version of himself, as Garret Blake, a lonely, bereaved soul who builds sailboats and writes mournful letters to departed Catherine. Penn, whose deft performance is more than the movie deserves, is Theresa Osborne, a single mother and researcher, who picks up one of his Catherine letters in a bottle, then tries to find the mystery author. Paul Newman has his moments as Costner's wisecracking father. But screenwriter Gerald DiPego's long-winded adaptation doesn't evoke the book so much as prolong the agony. Contains sexual situations, mild curses and a fistfight.

-- Desson Howe

TANGO

(PG-13, 1999, 115 minutes, Columbia-TriStar)

Spanish filmmaker Carlos Saura's sensual appreciation for dance fails him in this conceptually wishy-washy fable about a middle-aged film director (Miguel Angel Sola) who comes to Argentina to make the ultimate tango movie. He doesn't. Instead, we're subjected to his dirty old man's attraction (in the name of art and beauty, of course) to Elena (Mia Maestro), a young dancer he hires for his production. The best "dancer" is cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, who gives us a beautiful symphony of set designs and compositions, sweeping camera movement and a dynamic color scheme. Contains mild sexual situations.

-- Desson Howe

20 DATES

(R, 1999, 92 minutes, Twentieth Century Fox)

Myles Berkowitz, whose self-serving ambition shrieks volumes, secretly films himself having 20 dates with a variety of women -- most of whom feel understandably creepy when he tells them the deal. His bid to find the perfect woman is merely the bid of someone obsessed with becoming famous at any cost. "20 Dates" has a passing similarity to Ross McElwee's in-search-of-love documentary, "Sherman's March," but doesn't come close to that brilliantly made personal film. Contains unceasing footage of the filmmaker.

-- Desson Howe