Renny Hardin has done it again. After the ludicrous psycho-thriller “Mindhunters” and the laughable second take on a prequel to “The Exorcist,” he’s come up with what might have been a busted WB pilot–a guys-for-girls version of “Charmed.” It’s sad indeed when one’s making movies that wouldn’t even have passed muster on a network that no longer exists.
The plot of “The Covenant” has to do with a quartet of prep school buddies in Ipswich, Massachusetts, who happen to be the descendants of four of five founding families that were a coven of powerful warlocks. As such, they have inherited their ancestor’s supernatural abilities, getting a preliminary dose at their thirteen birthday and then “ascending” to full power at the moment they turn eighteen. There’s a definite hitch, however: whenever they employ their talents, their bodies quickly age, so overuse can result in a wizened husk of a man by his mid-forties.
There’s a further dangerous wrinkle just as the oldest of the boys, straight-arrow Caleb (Steven Strait), approaches his natal day and “ascension.” It appears that a descendant of that long-absent fifth family, which was presumed to have died out with an execution at Salem back in the seventeenth century, might be lurking about with evil intent. Might it be the campus bully Aaron (Kyle Schmid)? Or one of the two new transfer students–sweet-seeming Sarah (Laura Ramsey), who quickly becomes Caleb’s girlfriend, or clean-cut Chase (Sebastian Stan), a rich orphan whom Caleb befriends? Or are they merely red herrings concealing the true malefactor? What’s the shadowy villain’s purpose in exercising power? And can Caleb and his pals–faithful Pogue (Taylor Kitsch), rebellious Reid (Toby Hemingway) and quiet Tyler (Chace Crawford)–defeat him or her?
These aren’t terribly interesting questions under any circumstances, but they’re made especially boring by J.S. Cardone’s script, which not only has a silly premise (is witchery really inheritable?), but is badly constructed, wasting fully two-thirds of its running-time on purportedly suspenseful foreplay before revealing the identity of the culprit and setting up a final confrontation that’s basically a modern-day updating of the sorcerer-vs.-sorcerer stuff familiar from bad Dungeons and Dragons-like pictures of decades past, in which the combatants hurl each another about like rag dolls and toss what look like glowing balls of energy at one another. The only difference is that in this instance all the magical effects are being wielded by youngsters in school uniforms. But rest assured they’re as boring as ever, and that the close, which inevitably leaves open the possibility of a sequel, is an empty threat.
As a WB wannabe, of course, “The Covenant” boasts an extremely photogenic young cast. All the boys and girls mentioned above–as well as dark-haired Jessica Lucas as Sarah’s roommate and Pogue’s girlfriend–are handsome creatures, and for the adolescent girls in the audience, the five male leads are all portrayed as champion swimmers so that the young actors playing them can occasionally take off their shirts and show how buff they are. It’s unfortunate, though, that among them the kids have about a teaspoonful of acting talent–which, on the small screen might not matter much but in the theatre proves deadly. The adults fare no better, though, with Wendy Crewson in particular embarrassing herself in a semi-campy turn as Caleb’s alcoholic mother. And though critics don’t usually advise actors on matters of this sort, if Mr. Kitsch is going to appear in movies like this, it might be a good idea for him to consider taking a new surname.
Technically “The Covenant” is better than the average flick of this type; the production design (Anne Pritchard and Gary Randall) and widescreen cinematography (Pierre Gill) are professional, though the script calls for a lot of night scenes and dark interiors that mask their quality. And Harlin, despite the hack quality of most of his work here (and his inability to induce the cast to give real performances) handles the “suspense” moments decently enough, even if the setups are all pretty standard. Unfortunately, the effects (supervised by Ryal Cosgrove) are mediocre, no better than the sort you’d find on the tube.
Following up on the title of “The Covenant,” you and your family and friends might do well to enter into a binding agreement to skip it.