Moviegoers need to band together for a covenant — stop buying tickets to Renny Harlin movies.
Other than brief flashes of competence (“Cliffhanger,” “Mindhunters”), Harlin is a manufacturer of cinematic misery. His drab, nonsensical witchcraft flick “The Covenant” is all too typical of his gag-inducing résumé: “Exorcist: The Beginning.” “Driven.” “Cutthroat Island.” “Deep Blue Sea.”
Someone needs to make a movie that sets out to unravel the mystery of how this man is allowed to continue to work as a director. The indie ranks house dozens, if not hundreds, of filmmakers with superior skill.
“The Covenant,” a weak attempt at transferring “The Lost Boys” concept from vampires to witches, exemplifies all of Harlin’s weaknesses. He’s all about flash over substance, and not even interesting flash at that. The final act consists almost entirely of rival witches hurling fake-looking CGI energy balls at one another, sort of like the “hadokens” Ken and Ryu blast in the early-1990s “Street Fighter” video-game series.
Harlin also simply doesn’t have an eye for scripts. The dialogue is banal and idiotic, full of exchanges such as, “I’m scared,” answered by “Don’t be scared. It’s OK.” Any veteran storyteller worth his film stock would demand a rewrite, or at least have the decency to cut such nonsense out of the movie before it hits theaters.
Rounding up a cast of fresh-faced small-timers, including Steven Strait, Toby Hemingway and Taylor Kitsch, Harlin sketches out a potentially intriguing premise. Set somewhere in the Northeast, the drama unfurls at an elite boarding school ruled over by a secret band of teen witches whose lineage dates back to the Salem Witch Trials.
The kids are your usual collection of stereotypes: the tough biker, the uppity prep, the foppish smooth-talker and the burly troublemaker. Instead of playing video games and doing homework like most kids, these guys jump off of cliffs, using magic to soften their landings; cast prankster puke spells on bullies; and vanish their vehicle while fleeing from cops who break up their forest parties.
They also like to band together in a secret room in which they levitate a book that tells their family histories. Because turning pages is so passé.
After the initial flurry of mystical mayhem, the kids get into a deep discussion about the implications of their magic and why they shouldn’t use it. Most films of this type use the fallback reasoning of “any harmful spell you cast will come back to you threefold.” Harlin’s movie makes witchery tantamount to drug use. The more often you use magic, the more addicted you become and there’s a side effect of premature aging. Maybe that explains why the cast members, who are playing 17-year-olds, appear to be in their mid-20s.
There’s potential for some insightful parallelism here to the effort to keep kids off drugs — the characters even refer to spellcasting as “using” — but any possibilities are dragged asunder for more mangled computer graphics. It takes more than an hour to start the plot, about a newcomer who will stop at nothing to kill one of the boys and assume ultimate power.
By the time that groaner of a story kicks in, you wish it would go away. Too bad there’s no magical spell to speed up bad movies.
Movie Review by Phil Villarreal