The Skulls

Look: I’m perfectly capable of leaving cynicism at the door, turning my brain off, sitting down and having fun at a mindless, cheerfully dumb actioner a la Double Jeopardy. But that is not an absolute. There are some lines that I, as a moviegoer as well as a movie critic, will not cross. Some things I will not accept for the sake of entertainment. Keep that in mind when you read this: The Skulls is too stupid to fathom. It is so unbelievably ludicrous that I couldn’t help but think that it was intentional despite Rob Cohen’s constant attempts to convince me otherwise.

Allegedly based on the real “Skull & Bones” elite society at Yale, The Skulls tells the story of an exclusive club at a prominent Ivy League university. This club is called “The Skulls.” The members of The Skulls are so highfalutin’ they won’t give the regular kids the time of day. Very little is known about the secret society by the outside world other than the fact that it exists (it has a big logo outside its building).

Luke McNamara (Joshua Jackson), the school’s star rower, has just been invited to join The Skulls. The kid is smart, ambitious and strapped for cash, so he accepts the membership on the assumption that the society will give him the money to go to graduate law school. At the initiation ceremony (complete with Who Wants to Be a Millionaire lighting), they all have the Skulls logo burned into their arms and a Skulls watch to put over the scar. There’s also Skull mugs, cars, etc. You might wonder how exactly this society is secret.

When Luke’s best friend is found hanging from the ceiling, he suspects that something is afoot. He goes after the Skulls’ surveillance tapes — complete with the obligatory “Zoom In Closer” scene — and realizes that his friend’s death wasn’t a suicide. Wow.

Where to begin? The logical contradictions themselves are too numerous to count. Everything else in the world seems ordinary, so how could a society like The Skulls, which gives people scars, embezzles money and kills people actually exist, never mind in an educational environment? Just how stupid are these people to live by a rulebook with rules reminiscent of the Medieval Warrior Code? Finally, how can you have a duel — a real duel — out in the open, in the light of day and with hundreds of witnesses?

The problem is that The Skulls depends on us believing these things to enjoy the movie. It’s not a film with a solid premise but forgivable contrivances in execution. Nor is it a movie with a ludicrous premise but enjoyable follow-through. It’s not enthralling enough for us to forget how stupid it is. Not even close. The film doesn’t have a single redeeming value — it’s not suspenseful, it’s not interesting and it’s not even particularly well acted.

Director Rob Cohen (Dragonheart) needs to learn subtlety in his camerawork. The camera can be used to set up mood and tone and convey the emotional state of characters and events. But we’re not supposed to specifically notice it. There’s a scene in The Skulls where a confrontation takes place between some major characters. It has a lot of passionate “They control everything!” shouting, a lot of desperation. It could have been suspenseful if I wasn’t given the feeling that the cameraman was drunk. The camera went insane, wobbling all over the place, changing angles and directions furiously until we’re left with a headache. The movement was supposed to accentuate the suspense but it is so obvious that it distracts from the very scene it is trying to assist.

I don’t like to make sweeping, generalizing statements, but The Skulls is the worst movie I’ve seen since Lost in Space. It manages to be inept in every possible way. Even the stars, among them the charming Joshua Jackson and the gorgeous Leslie Dibbs, can’t eke out worthwhile performances. The Skulls seems to exist in a vacuum, so detached from the real world that it might just be about a parallel universe — except that it isn’t.

-- Eugene Novikov

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