Covenant, The

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 09/08/06 17:56:33

"Let Me Know When the Paul Schrader Version Comes Out"
1 stars (Sucks)

If this were a perfect world, Renny Harlin would have been given the job of directing the likes of “Snakes on a Plane” or “Crank.” After all, having provided us in the past with such lunatic sights as Samuel L. Jackson being consumed by a genetically-enhanced shark in mid-inspirational speech in “Deep Blue Sea,” Val Kilmer’s corpse being used as a makeshift marionette in “Mindhunters” and Geena Davis as both a swashbuckling pirate (“Cutthroat Island”) and an amnesiac ex-CIA-assassin-turned-suburban-housewife (“The Long Kiss Goodnight”), you would think that his cheerfully lunatic approach would have been the perfect complement to the already demented premises presented by those films. Alas, we don’t live in a perfect world–if we did, I would have been spending my afternoon in a Paris bistro with Milla Jovovich reading the “New York Times” rave of my first collection of reviews (“Makes the collected works of Pauline Kael look like the ramblings of some bitter old broad with a barely sublimated crush on Clint Eastwood!”) instead of sitting in an anonymous suburban multiplex watching “The Covenant,” the paint-by-numbers craptacular that a decade-plus of box-office busts has sadly led him.

Essentially a knock-off of “The Craft” with the bulges under the tight clothing appearing in all the wrong areas, “The Covenant” tells the story of four hunky dullards who are the descendants of a quartet of families with astonishing supernatural powers that come to them on their 13th and 18th birthdays. How astonishing are they? They all live outside of Gloucester, Massachusetts and yet they can talk on their cell phones without getting cut off once. They are all going to a swanky prep school–the kind where the architects spent so much time and money building a state-of-the-art shower in the girls dorm (complete with glass frosted just enough to preserve the PG-13 rating) that they only had the materials left to build one classroom–and while away the days until their 18th birthday and the attendant ascension into full supernaturaliciousness by flipping up skirts in the local bar, levitating their cars in order to avoid being pulled over by the cops and walking around in the kind of male-model formations that usually end in a gasoline fight. (And yes, I am so desperate for material at this point that I have been reduced to arcane “Zoolander” references to make my admittedly tired point.) Of course, there is a danger in using these powers willy-nilly because doing so causes the physical body to age at a pace rapid enough to make David Bowie in “The Hunger” look like Catherine Denueve in “The Hunger.”

It turns out that back in the days of old, there was actually a fifth family that shared in the powers until it turned out that they were bad and the bloodline was presumed to have ended with the burning of one John Putnam. (According to the film, the witch hunts in Salem were apparently a good idea after all.) Anyway, it turns out that the family bloodline didn’t die out after all and hunky newcomer Chase Collins (Sebastian Stan) arrives in town to begin causing trouble for everyone, especially the about-to-ascend alpha-warlock Caleb Danvers (Steven Strait). Chase has become a literal power junkie (even though he displays no signs of the aging that we are told is the immediate and automatic result of such behavior) and demands that Caleb will his powers over to him so that he can be extra-powerful and stave off the aging process, even though he is told time and again that it doesn’t work that way. To ensure that Caleb gets with the program, Chase causes him to have an accident during a swim meet, puts one of his buddies in the hospital and threatens to do unspeakable things to Sarah (Laura Ramsey), the new girl in town who doesn’t understand what Caleb really is but who does understand the importance of going through all those scenes of pesky exposition while clad only in her undies.

But there I go, making “The Covenant” sound far more exciting and intriguing than anyone bothered to do while making it in the first place. The characters are all vaguely defined blurs–seemingly cast more for their ability to look good in the 30-second-spots airing incessantly during “TRL” or whatever the kids are watching these days–and the screenplay is even more (or less so). At least “The Craft,” a film that has held up surprisingly well over the years (and not just because of the way that Robin Tunney and Fairuza Balk looked in Catholic schoolgirl outfits), bothered to create vaguely recognizable characters and plot developments before throwing them away for the effects-heavy finale. This time around, it doesn’t even work as eye candy because no one involved seems to have come up with anything for the characters to do with their powers but glower menacingly while slamming people around the room without touching them. The climax is the most disappointing bit of all. We are led to believe that the final battle between Caleb and Chase will be some astonishing epic display of good supernatural powers versus bad supernatural powers and what do we get? A couple of lookalike guys slamming around a burning barn while hurtling balls of psychokinetic energy at each other. C’mon, that is the kind of thing you would expect to see in a below-average episode of “Charmed” and only then because of the assumption that the typical viewers attention would be directed elsewhere–approximately 18 inches below the eyes of the main characters.

These scenes are especially frustrating because you keep waiting for Harlin, the guy who somehow managed to shoehorn a shower scene into “Exorcist: The Beginning,” to spring something truly lunatic on us–Lord knows the material is crying out for such an approach–and he never does, perhaps as a result of the despondency brought upon by the realization that his career has been reduced to directing the kind of assembly-line hackwork that one does early in the career before getting to do the likes of “Die Hard 2,” not sixteen years afterwards. There are exactly two moments in “The Covenant” that even begin to reach the goofball heights that he was once capable of. The first comes during the climactic fight when, in what appears to be all seriousness, Chase threatens Caleb with the instant-classic line “How about I make you my we–otch?” (Hey, it comes off funnier and slightly more natural than Sam Jackson yelling about wanting the effing snakes off the effing plane.) The second comes a few minutes later in the final scene which, astonishingly, tries to leave an opening for “The Covenant 2"–a film that will probably occur right around the time that Milla and I, along with special friend Asia Argento, are back in that Paris bistro reading the reviews of my second book, an auteurist examination of the life and career of Renny Harlin entitled “A Finn’s Notes.”

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