"Are you ready to be reborn?"
When producers and directors and actors finish making a movie like The Skulls, I really wonder what they're thinking when they go ahead and green light it. Perhaps they suffer from the same sort of self-delusion that some people do in science about their research. That would perhaps indicate that a way to "test" movies (much like hypotheses in science) with properly controlled Popperian-type experiments is necessary for the movie industry. But I digress.
The Skulls is easily one of the worst films I've seen (and the fact that this just happened after The Ninth Gate leads me to not have too many expectations for the rest of the film year). And it shouldn't be, given the amount of effort that must've gone into making it. Like with The Ninth Gate, the film is laughably bad, so much so that my stomach was hurting at the end of the film.
The Skulls is the name of an highly secret society on an Ivy League campus (Yale). So secret that their building has a huge skull logo on top, more prominent than even the phallic symbol on top of the Hoover tower here at Stanford. So secret that every member is a given a key to the clubhouse and a book with his name embossed on it. So secret that the members are branded with the society's logos on their arms (and they wear watches to cover it---as if!).
The Skulls are supposed to be the most elite and best powerful. So powerful that one of the key members runs across campus in broad daylight chasing after a female student. So powerful that they go through inane rituals and make their inductees jump through various hoops that would be more appropriate as part of an undergraduate social fraternity or sorority initiation (which says something about the idiocy of those organisations, but I (putting on my flame-suit) digress again). So powerful that the way they settle their disputes is by following a 200 year-old rule book (and pistols).
You have to see to understand: each of these revelations is hilarious, particularly given the seriousness with which they are done.
Anyway, the story is that Luke McNamara (Joshua Jackson), an ambitious student, not from the most prestigious of family backgrounds, is driven to drawn the Skulls so that he can pay for his law school education (the organisation promises its all-male all-heterosexual all-white members money, power, and women in exchange for their loyalty). After his best friend is killed investigating the Skulls, Luke wants out, but finds that it's much easier to get in than to get out.
Movies like this can be good: a sympathetic underdog pitted against a huge monolithic and powerful organisation that will stop at nothing (Enemy of the State, The Fugitive). But this one's terrible given how inept the Skulls appear to be. Menacing they are not, and Dawson's Creek's Jackson is no Will Smith or Harrison Ford (not even close) who can carry movies on their own. Leslie Bibb, as Luke's love interest Chloe, is bright and perky, but the chemistry between the leads is in the negative range.
I saw the trailer for The Skulls again, after I had seen the film. And I thought it was one of the best cases of camouflage I've ever seen: the trailer is a hundred times more interesting than the film is. And that's my recommendation: watch the trailer, skip the film.