01/10/2006. Contributed by Frank Ochieng
Poor Renny Harlin, says Frank. What in the world happened to this filmmaker to the point of despair? If one were to do a dirty laundry list of all Harlin's unappetizing flicks, they would have to invest in a soap detergent factory just to wipe off the stench. With forgettable fizzles such as Cutthroat Island, Driven, Deep Blue Sea and Exorcist: The Beginning, you would think that the misguided moviemaker would shoot for something digestible to redeem his current curse of flaccid filmmaking.
The Covenant (2006) Screen Gems
Since lightening won't strike twice for some of his better fare (The Long Kiss Goodnight, Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger) then we'll have to simply settle for his tedious witchcraft washout The Covenant. This sophomoric supernatural stinker couldn't put a convincing spell on a disabled frog. The only credible things that are remotely appealing are the photogenic young cast members that look as if they were hired off of an MTV-style soap opera. Otherwise, The Covenant has all the intriguing mysticism of a bent magic wand.
Clearly, Harlin has no legitimate intention on serving this worn-out whimsical drama as a means to challenge the already saturated and repetitive teen horror genre. In fact, he looks to exploit his hackneyed hocus pocus sideshow by purposely catering this dud to the Clearasil crowd whose cravings include ditties that register such as yesteryear's The Lost Boys, the prospering Harry Potter movie series and television's long-running mainstays Charmed and Smallville.
With anemic acting, shameless references to adolescent-obsessed perks, lazy direction, devastatingly dim-witted dialogue and overwrought special effects that look as they were lifted from a geek's "Dungeons and Dragons" computer files, The Covenant is a monotonous bore despite its pretty-faced protagonists. Screenwriter J.S. Cardone basically throws everything into a witless witch's (or in this particular case warlock's) brew and lets the simplistic boiling ingredients take their tepid course.
The movie's setting is at a posh New England-based boarding school known as Spencer Academy. There, the facility is dominated by a bunch of privileged boys (with shiny pecs and a plentiful of pocket money that will be sure to woo the hormonal honeys on screen and off). Anyway, these buff benefactors have more than just looks and good fortune-they also have an exceptional lineage to boast about enabling them to experience their inherited superior powers.
The four boys in question-good-looking and rugged leader Caleb (Stephen Strait), blonde-haired Reid (Toby Hemingway), leather-clad and long-haired Pogue (Taylor Kitsch), and Tyler (Chace Crawford)-are descendants from specialized families that lived during the Salem Witch Trials period in 1800s colonial Massachusetts. Each has magical skills and won't hesitate to use them for foolish purposes. The problem is that these broomstick bad boys are draining their "gift" and there are still unknown "greater forces" that exist in their repertoire of bewitching banality as their maturity unfolds.
The Covenant has some silly-minded subplot about the manner in which these guys abuse their witchery powers for the most inane reasons (Harlin's misuse of his "Covenant" powers was putting this disposable dud into production). The belief is that with every miscellaneous mystical movement that's put into action the dreaded signs of premature aging sets in where their "addiction" may cause further alarm. So for any compulsion to utilize the potent powers for confronting undesirables or mindlessly engaging in frivolous stunts (cliff jumping, levitating books in mid-air, etc.) the results may be costly. Hence, the stern cautionary credo: "stud-muffing magic-maker be aware...playing tricks can be hazardous to your health!"
Utterly dissolving in its pandering to the teen scene, The Covenant may pique the curiosities of some giddy schoolgirls looking to get and heavy over washboard abs warlocks and their fruitless prankster premonitions. However, the rest of us will wonder what murky potion that Harlin was sipping to come up with this chintzy chiller meets Dawson Creek. There is not one imaginative sequence in this fiasco of a fantasy that suggests any substance or relevance in this sporadic spookfest. Harlin concocts a few forced eye-popping scenes involving rival spell-makers trading bursts of CGI fireballs back and forth. And of course who can forget the obligatory creepy crawly critters that figure into generic thrillers as The Covenant. For a crew of carousing cads that possess powers beyond belief, the movie doesn't give them much to do other than embark on innocuous ribaldry that would make David Letterman's "stupid human tricks" look like a festive Harry Houdini revival.
Yes, The Covenant definitely casts a spell all right - the question is: who can seriously fall under the hypnotic hogwash of Harlin's beefcake bozos and the curvaceous chicks that follow along blindly for this inconsolable thrill-ride? Of all the so-called inherited powers concerning these magical male model types, why couldn't they simply make The Covenant a halfway decent flick that rocks? Or better yet, whip up some common sense in making Harlin and his middling movie turn into a disappearing act?
© Frank Ochieng 2006