Laced with horribly clichéd secret society mumbo jumbo and unintentionally funny homoerotic undertones, "The Skulls" is a laughable thriller about a pre-law Yale student (Joshua Jackson) so shallow and ambitious that he's willing to throw over his best friend and the girl he loves just to be accepted in an underground campus club of power-hungry blue bloods.
The Skulls, you see, are an indomitable, clandestine handful of the country's social and political elite -- all Yale men -- who the movie tells us founded the CIA among other ominous undertakings. Members are members for life. They get branded and paired up with other members as "soul mates." They live by a musty, leather-bound, 200-year-old book of rules. They cover up each other's scandals.
When this brotherhood accept new members, money is deposited money in their bank accounts, they're given expensive cars, tuxedos (which are worn to frequent Skulls dinner parties), nice wrist-watches, nights with call-girls in a Christian Dior gowns, and -- most importantly as far as young Luke McNamara (Jackson) is concerned -- they pay their conscripts' tuitions and see to it they get into the law school of their choice.
But above all, they keep each other's secrets. So once Luke is in -- following an funhouse initiation ritual so ridiculously cabalistic and ostentatious it's reminiscent of "Phantom Of the Opera" -- he finds himself in a tight spot when The Skulls murder his now-estranged best friend, a campus paper cub reporter looking to expose them.
Caught in a slow-witted, collegiate retread of "The Firm," Luke realizes (a bit late) that The Skulls aren't such a swell bunch of guys after all and has to run for his life while looking for a way to blackmail himself out of the organization and bring the murderer to justice.
Got all that?
Helmed by journeyman director Rob Cohen ("Daylight," "Dragonheart") and aimed squarely at easily entertained teenagers with eight bucks to burn, "The Skulls" isn't a bad idea for a movie. But when Cohen started casting weightless heartthrobs like Paul Walker ("Varsity Blues," "She's All That") as Jackson's well-to-do rival, and Wonderbra hotties like Leslie Bibb (TV's "Popular") as his scholarly arm ornament, it became a project with plenty of looks but no brains.
Most of the movie's budget seems to have gone into presentation. It's well-paced and edited, the photography is crisp, clean and exciting and the sets are ludicrously spectacular. The Skulls meet in an ceremonial underground chamber lined with marble pillars, and even Luke's 400-square-foot dorm room has vaulted stone ceilings.
But the characters are deadly dull and the Swiss-cheese scenarios so frequently laughable that the crowd at the preview screening -- enlisted by a local top 40 station, the picture's target audience -- couldn't stop snickering through the whole show.
Without a single moment of genuine suspense and with a climactic confrontation that seems to ignore many of the plot revelations, the movie's biggest problem remains that its main character is fundamentally unlikable because he's so utterly selfish, turning his back on his friends until he needs to be rescued.
Run time: 106 mins
In Theaters: Friday 31st March 2000
Box Office Worldwide: $35M
Distributed by: Universal Studios Home Video
Production compaines: Universal Pictures, Original Film, Newmarket Capital Group, Cranium Films
Contactmusic.com: 1 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 9%
Fresh: 8 Rotten: 77
IMDB: 5.5 / 10
Director: Rob Cohen
Starring: Joshua Jackson as Lucas "Luke" McNamara, Paul Walker as Caleb Mandrake, Hill Harper as Will Beckford, Leslie Bibb as Chloe Whitfield, Christopher McDonald as Martin Lombard, Steve Harris as Detective Sparrow, William Petersen as Ames Levritt, Craig T. Nelson as Litten Mandrake, David Asman as Jason Pitcairn, Scott Gibson as Travis Wheeler, Nigel Bennett as Dr. Rupert Whitney, Andrew Kraulis as McBride, Derek Aasland as Sullivan, Jennifer Melino as J.J., Noah Danby as Hugh Mauberson
Also starring: Craig T Nelson
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