Volume 93, Issue 98

Tuesday, April 4, 2000


Fidelity lost in transmission

Even for teen fare, Skulls just a bit too thick

Halos ready to lunge for brass ring

Ellington sends jazz fans Home

Even for teen fare, Skulls just a bit too thick

By Rebecca Morier
Gazette Staff

The Skulls is a little bit like an all you can eat buffet. You start by sampling a little bit from a whole lot of stuff, after which, you leave feeling sickly full even though you never had enough of any one particular thing to enjoy your meal.

Under the guise of a teen-targeted suspense-thriller, The Skulls is a cautionary tale of morals, class and corruption. We are introduced to orphan Luke McNamara (Joshua Jackson), an ambitious student, who is juggling jobs so that he may pay for his Ivy League schooling and surpass his humble beginnings. Luke's prospects change when he gets "tapped" for entry into the Skulls, a highly selective secret society, whose acceptance ensures entrance into law school.

In exchange for guaranteed security and success, the Skulls demand strict loyalty and obedience. As expected, the corrupt and deadly nature of the covert organization becomes clear, at which point the film begins to unravel in a series of contrived plot twists and formulaic conspiracy-theory motifs.

When Luke feels the sting from his scorned friends, he is caught in a dilemma of conscience and must decide whether or not to favour moral uprightness over the Skulls' power and privilege. Along with his assigned "soul mate," fifth-generation Skull Caleb Mandrake (Paul Walker), Luke becomes aware of the potency of the Skulls' agenda and learns that – in a move similar to that of Tom Cruise in The Firm – the only way to escape from the grips of the organization is to play by their rules. What ensues is a series of tired showdowns and car chases. The bottom falls out long before the final moments of the film.

Perhaps the main problem with The Skulls is its continuous wave of happenings that eschew any emotional effect. It seems to lull the audience instead of engage them. The weak script, with its fair share of clichés and cheesy expressions, also lessens the film's impact and makes it difficult for the audience to take the characters seriously.

The characters are so underdeveloped that it is difficult to be mere observers of them, let alone identify or sympathize with them. What could have potentially been a rich showing of complex, true-to-life characters is instead, a glaring absence of psychological depth and personal growth.

That is not to say however, that all the cast's efforts are in vain. The performances are all generally convincing, especially those by Walker, Craig T. Nelson (TV's Coach) who plays Caleb Mandrake's influential father and Luke's best friend Hill Harper (In Too Deep). Big screen newcomer Leslie Bibb fulfills her role as Chloe, the requisite love interest. But the centre spotlight deservedly shines on Joshua Jackson, a young Tom Hanks of sorts, who has an every-man appeal. Surprisingly, Jackson carves out a wholly believable and amiable persona, making the most of his character within a stunted script.

As far as the The Skulls' aesthetics go, there are moments when the lushness of the backdrop is breathtaking, especially the opening regatta scene shot in St. Catharines, Ontario. Most of the campus scenes, filmed at the University of Toronto, show off an equally impressive art direction. Unfortunately, the bulk of the film offends the eye with harsh, rock music video-esque lighting that aims for slickness and comes up asgaudiness.

What begins as a promising premise quickly dissipates into a series of events which fail to be investigated long enough to hold the audience's interest. Although it seems to have all the trappings of an entertaining suspense-thriller, The Skulls is really a no-brainer.

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