Oh, what freedom filmmakers have when they know nothing about their subject.


A Nebbadoon review by Joan Ellis.

The Skulls uses Skull and Bones, one of Yale's secret senior societies, as both the setting and the villain of a wild-eyed story of power and control. Using myths that have floated around since the society's founding in the 1800s, the film is determined to prove that, in the words of one of the principals, "If it's secret it can't be good." In this movie it certainly can't.

In an unintentionally comic burst of exaggeration, the filmmakers use the real-life secrecy of these groups as a shield for a portrait of Skull and Bones, here called The Skulls, an omnipotent force that guarantees members lifetime support on all fronts-if they play the game. The game is played by sleek villains in a building that is a surreal and wonderfully ridiculous rendering of contemporary Gothic. In a showy bit of self-promotion that such a group would abhor, a giant medallion of a skull tops the dark headquarters.

Tapped for the society, student Luke McNamara rises from the poverty of his part-time cafeteria job to the world of unbridled influence. He and each of his peers are given a new sports car and a $100,000 bank deposit. Thrilled at first with his miraculous elevation, Luke soon sees the dark stuff oozing from the souls of his colleagues. It's Luke against the Society, and you can imagine who wins in this stacked fantasy of blue-collar boy against the rich and nasty Skulls. Prepare yourself for lines like "Dad, I just killed a guy in the ritual room."

We are treated to the sight of knockout drops, silk-lined coffins, branding irons, a duel, a murder, a cover-up, and a ludicrous impersonation of Bill Clinton. "Our rules supercede those of the outside world," is a sentiment that would draw a hearty laugh from society alumni William Howard Taft, George Bush, Cole Porter, and a long list of public servants. They got one thing a little bit right: "CIA was founded in there-back when CIA was the good guys." Those were also the days when the fifteen chosen seniors were announced each year on the front page of The New York Herald Tribune.

In all this foolishness, two actors who deserve a better fate produce improbably decent work considering the melodrama they must overcome. As the honorable Luke and his good friend Chloe, Joshua Jackson and Leslie Bitt manage to keep straight faces as protagonists in a phony morality play involving corrupt senators, university officers, police, and judges. Oh, what freedom filmmakers have when they know nothing about their subject.

An organization that refuses to talk about itself has the strength of silence. You can bet Skull and Bones won't comment on this movie. It's highly likely that the general public, faced with a production that is a witless folly, won't say a word either. Nor, probably, will they give it a moment's thought.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count1 : 491
Studio : Universal
Rating : PG-13
Running time : 1h46m

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