1 hour, 37 minutes
AP Photo/Sony Pictures/Jonathan
Renny Harlin is a hack. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, though with every passing movie I say it with a little more affection. His latest directorial effort, the teen-witch thriller “The Covenant,” is just one in a series of ridiculous, yet strangely entertaining, Hollywood genre films.
Often that genre is scary, though the movies rarely are. Sometimes Harlin’s chosen genre is action, which he does well enough. He made his name with “Die Hard 2: Die Harder,” a good movie with a bad title. A couple of good friends of mine are huge fans of “The Long Kiss Goodnight,” which he made with then-wife Geena Davis in a weird blond wig. It’s a good movie, though I like it more for Samuel Jackson, who, upon being asked about his religion, replies, “Yeah, I’m a Mormon. That’s why I just had three gin and tonics and smoked a pack of Pall Malls.”
The one genre I’m sure Harlin will avoid from now on is that of the pirate movie, considering that his other teaming with Davis was “Cutthroat Island,” a movie that nearly sunk both of their careers.
“The Covenant” is a slick music video of a movie, featuring brooding teens and a hard rockin’ soundtrack. It’s silly, but actually entertaining. Caleb, Pogue, Reid and Tyler are the “sons of Ipswich,” descendants of the legendary “five families” who held enormous and mysterious power during the 16th and 17th centuries in England and, later, America. The power, described in the “Book of Damnation” and whose origins are conveniently unknown, has been passed down from father to son all the way up to the present day, where it resides in our heroes.
But there’s a catch. On one’s 18th birthday comes the “ascension,” wherein the warlock in question receives powers a “thousand times greater than any he can possibly imagine.” If you saw “Highlander,” you pretty much know what ascending is all about. Unfortunately, once you ascend, every time you use your power, you lose a little bit of your life, and therein lies the rub. Each of our boys is on the verge of ascending, but they’ve got bigger fish to fry.
Though thought to have been destroyed during the witch hunts of the 1600s, it seems the fifth bloodline is about to reappear, throwing our heroes’ cushy boarding school life into serious disarray. Who will come out on top? Who will ascend? Who will succeed in wooing the perky blonde who loves to dance? Only Renny Harlin knows the answer.
Silly as it is, this movie succeeds in being entertaining simply by not trying too hard to be anything else. Maybe it’s all a matter of expectations. The story holds together well, even though the background makes no sense. There’s nothing particularly original here, but as a result, the movie demands little of you apart from sitting back and enjoying yourself. Granted, the dialogue is often cringe-worthy, as when, during the climactic battle, the villain tells Caleb, “I’m going to make you my wee-otch.” Or when, as he is about to perform a particularly impressive bit of magic, Tyler yells, “Harry Potter can kiss my -.” You get the picture.
The acting ranges from adequate to poor, but for all their male model Zoolanderishness, the characters are likable. The main problem is you can’t tell them apart. Not only do they all look alike, but they’ve all got blue blood names like Chase and Caleb. Even the actors’ names get confusing. Tyler is played by a kid named Chace, and Pogue by a Taylor. It’s hopeless to try to keep them straight.
The girls, on the other hand, chosen obviously for their looks, are more discernible, but display no better acting. I wish the screenwriter had placed this story in a college setting rather than high school, making all the shots of scantily clad coeds a little less disturbing. What kind of message does that send?
Aside from attractive actors, the other thing a movie like this has to offer is special effects. Overall they are good and don’t overwhelm the production. A car is smashed to bits by a semi truck and magically rebuilds itself. A scary “Darkling” keeps appearing to Caleb. Hundreds of spiders swarm the cute blonde heroine. These are all well done. However, I don’t understand why with the unlimited potential that magical powers afford, screenwriters inevitably fall back on the old standby: opposing characters throwing globs of energy at each other. Is that the best we can do? What about transporting your opponent to the moon? How about transforming yourself into a dragon? Or transforming him into a newt? No, basically having magical powers means you can hurl powerballs, although I do have to give credit to Caleb for drop-kicking one rather than throwing it.
“The Covenant,” far from being a classic of cinema, is exactly what is required on a lazy fall evening silly, a little scary and not at all thought provoking. Maybe Renny Harlin has found his niche.
“The Covenant” is rated PG-13 for frightening images, violence, brief language, brief sexual content, and brief nudity.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.
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