|Andrew Lindemann Malone's Internet Playpen|
As films that both tell tales of young men in uncertain financial circumstances who join secretive societies as a means to obtaining instant cash, cool cars and willing women, but who eventually become guilty about the society's shady methods and then must attempt to leave with their morals and bodies intact, "The Skulls" and the recent "Boiler Room" are very similar. "Boiler Room," however, aspired to greatness, with sensitive portrayals of complex characters, and fell short of its goal only because of the predictable plot schema outlined above. "The Skulls," regrettably, is just another slightly-above-average Hollywood movie. Its characters are either very good or very evil, its plot includes gratuitous love scenes, car chases and hand-to-hand combat, and all the young people in it are frighteningly attractive. Director Rob Cohen knows how to punch an audience's buttons, and the film keeps you semi-involved while it progresses, but for all its passing pleasures "The Skulls" leaves your mind the minute you leave your seat.
An explanatory note is probably needed here: This film depicts a secret society called the Skulls at an unnamed Ivy League university, whose logo is a blue Y and whose teams are nicknamed the Bulldogs. Coincidentally, a secret society called Skull and Bones resides at Yale University, whose logo is a blue Y and whose teams are nicknamed the Bulldogs. One of the most famous real Skulls is The Original George Bush. Though people tend to exaggerate Skull and Bones' power, it (and Yale University) still could presumably attack the filmmakers with enough legal weapons that they decided to use the pseudonym. But let's not kid ourselves about what's being fictionally depicted here.
Anyway, Joshua Jackson plays the young man who decides to join the Skulls and undergo the plot outlined above. Even if you have not seen "Boiler Room," you've probably seen this plot before ("The Firm," "The Devil's Advocate"), and "The Skulls" certainly brings nothing new to it. The plot twists come right when Jackson needs them to in order to stay alive, like pieces of a children's puzzle fitting together. Some of the characters are forced to utter truly horrible dialogue, especially put-upon Leslie Bibb as Jackson's best-friend-oops-I-mean-girlfriend. In addition to the gratuities mentioned above, the film also includes some crowd-pleasing jokes about snotty preppies, a Southern senator who uses his kindly wisdom for the greater good, and a beloved black character who is killed within 20 minutes of the start of the film. "The Skulls" simply oozes formula, and that makes it hard to take seriously.
It's too bad, too, because some people tried to do a good job. Cohen consistently shows that he's doing as much as he can with the script. He manages to make a crew race not only enjoyable but riveting, he uses swooping camerawork unobtrusively to make points, and fosters a pretty good facsimile of camaraderie among the actors. Jackson, although he is a very stolid actor, remains nonetheless likable throughout the film. His ability to make the audience identify with his glee upon being presented with unearned riches and paid women is the only thing that saves this film's exposition from total ridiculousness. And Leslie Bibb is outstanding as the girlfriend all men wish they had: gorgeous, brilliant, funny, and surprisingly handy with a punch or a driving stunt. She needs to be in more movies.
So this film is certainly diverting. It stokes your get-rich-quick fantasies and lets you feel morally superior since you're rooting for Jackson, and throws in a couple decent action scenes to boot. It's not as entertaining as a lot of other movies, either, but it could be much worse. Unfortunately, thanks to its unbelievably hackneyed plot, it's a long way from good. This film is kind of fun, but ultimately "The Skulls" is completely empty.
X-RAYS OF "THE SKULLS" REVEALED NOTHING
I think now is the right time to reveal that, during my first semester at Maryland, I was approached by representatives of Yale University, who noticed that I was unaggressive and unlikely to contest murderous coverups, and who decided that I was thus qualified to join the ancient mystic secret society of The Illuminated Skulls of the Rosy Cross Who Construct Temples With Their Masonry Because They Are Odd Fellows From the Trilateral Commission. I turned them down because I had no reason to believe that I could ever recite their full name without laughing. But last night, at the preview, they approached me again, this time with diabolically tempting gifts. Well, I kept their hackeysack and their cool hat, but I'm still not gonna join.
Didn't get 'em a good review, either.
All this tasty writing ©2002-11 by Andrew Lindemann Malone. All rights reserved.