Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:45 - Released 3/31/00

The desire to become involved in a secret society is something I've never really understood, particularly if the group serves no purpose except to keep its own secrets and make its members feel special by doing so. However, I suppose at certain ivy league colleges there is no shortage of eager would-be members. This is the theme of Rob Cohen's The Skulls, a dark, stupid tale about a young Yale man who is seduced by the power of the school's most powerful club, and lives to regret it. Unfortunately, thanks to writer John Pogue and the sorry performances of those reading his text, so do we.

Cafeteria assistant Luke McNamara (Joshua Jackson, Dawson's Creek), who has to work for a living, would be of no interest to the wealthy, elitist members of The Skulls were it not for his amazing ability on the school's rowing team ("sculling" — get it?). Despite his roommate and row captain Will's (Hill Harper) dislike of the secretive fraternity, and the similar feelings of his female friend Chloe (Leslie Bibb), Luke can't deny feeling honored when he is tapped as a new member. Of course, it doesn't hurt that they give him a sexy vintage sports car and promise to pay his tuition and get him accepted at Harvard law school. During the process of "discovery" (a.k.a. hazing), he becomes friends with Caleb Mandrake (Paul Walker, Pleasantville, Varsity Blues), the spoiled son of Litten Mandrake (Craig T. Nelson), a wealthy and influential local politician who is president of the society.

Although Luke vows not to let his Skull membership affect his relationship with his non-Skull friends, Will and Chloe immediately start pestering him for secrets, and Will attempts to find out about the club by breaking into its headquarters. He is discovered by Caleb, and something terrible happens. Soon Luke must choose between his old friends with their love and integrity, and his new friend with its convertible top and restored original red leather interior.

From the moment when they instruct the new recruits not to reveal the identities of the club's membership, and then immediately brand them, cattle-style, with a hot iron, on the wrist, with a skull emblem, this film suffers from the most stupid series of credibility gaps one can imagine. A supreme court nominee who instructs someone to murder so as not to jeopardize his own chances for appointment. An old-fashioned duel, using 19th-century dueling pistols, taking place on the grounds of a present-day Yale University building under the supervision of respected adults. A man being presumed dead after suffering a 2-foot fall. An automobile chase on railroad tracks. Not to mention people reacting to adversity by shouting "Nooooooooo!" into the sky. It's all here, folks. Bad story, bad dialogue, bad acting. I've seen better stories cooked up by my 4-year-old in the back yard, playing imaginary games. Hey, that's it: maybe Pogue has a pre-schooler helping him with ideas.

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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