What’s the world coming to? It used to be that you could count on Renny Harlin to make a watchable genre flick. There used to be a fine line that held his work over the truly execrable, intellectually offensive works by cine-criminals Michael Bay and tax shelter-auteur-turned-pugilist Uwe Boll. But now, with The Covenant, I have to say that we have ourselves a new unholy trinity of crapola or like the joke goes: “An American, a German, and a Norseman pick up this camera…”
My neighbor put a full sized Lone Ranger on his lawn for Christmas. Don’t ask me why. But it reminded me that the Lone Ranger once called a villain, “a stench to the nostrils of good men.” Now that’s a damn good review for this film, kimosabe. This stench starts with the script by J.S. Cardone which was clearly scribbled together from multiple viewings of The Lost Boys and The Craft. If you’re going to steal, why steal from two films which are mediocre at best? Why not take one part The Exorcist mixed with two parts of The Ghost and The Darkness. Oh, wait, didn’t Renny Harlin just do that in Exorcist: The Beginning? Or am I thinking of Paul Schrader?
The Covenant is all about these kids who go to some private school in New England and call themselves the “Sons of Ipswich.“ They’re all descendants of the original five warlocks who got together and did something…but there are only four now since the fifth member fell prey to the dark side and was banished, supposedly having his bloodline severed. This turns out to be wrong, as the descendent of the fifth member returns to town to settle the score and to take the powers of the leader of the “Sons,” Caleb(Steven Strait), who is about to “ascend” on his pending 18th birthday. There’s a blonde girl, Sarah(Laura Ramsey), who is also part of the plot, falling for Caleb and basically just hanging around, showing the boys what she’s got by dancing up a storm in their local bar (this is actually her idea of girl power). She is such a non-entity that you could replace her with Caleb’s favorite dog and nothing in the plot would need reworking... except maybe the shower scenes and the kissing. That might be weird.
The “Sons” always hang out together and look like a Swedish Goth boyband headlined by Jordan Knight. All are taken to task for “using,” since their powers are said to be addictive and will lead them down a path of self-destruction if they are not responsible. You know, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Caleb’s father lost himself in “using” and lives as a corpse-like wraith in an old house, only 40-something years old and looking not a day over 90. Looking so old would be disastrous for the Ispswich Boys’ plans to look cool, hang out in bars, fly around in fast cars, and such. Use the power too much and you’ll get old and no one will ever visit or talk to you, old man.
Their feats of strength are depicted in the film with such an overuse of digital technology that leaves you wishing, no, begging for one shot to just show something tangible and real. I know this is not a film rooted in any logic, but we’ve come a long way since the days when Dracula went from man-to-bat and back without losing the suit and cape or Larry Talbot changing into the Wolf Man and somehow going from a light gray to a black shirt (did the Wolf Man take a minute to freshen up and change into the darker shirt?). In The Covenant, Harlin shows Caleb crashing his car into a huge truck, exploding into a thousand metal and glass fragments only to reform on the other side as though nothing happened. I know the “sons” are supposed to be immortal, but is the car immortal too? Wouldn’t it be enough to show Caleb stepping away from the disaster without a scratch?
This kind of massive cinematic hype is all over the movie. When one fireball would be enough, Harlin has an inferno engulf the screen. There’s one scene where Caleb visits Sarah in her dorm room and Harlin goes into cinematic overdrive, having Caleb enter and sit on the bed with her, then having another knock at the door and Sarah answering it to reveal a second Caleb. Sarah is startled, looking back at “Caleb” on the bed who is now revealed (via cheap morphing) to be the evil Warlock while the real Caleb at the door is shocked to see Sarah vanish in front of him and appear next to the warlock on the bed. So, we thought Sarah was real, but she wasn’t and yet the fake Sarah seemed to be quite shocked at being duped by the fake Caleb. If you are completely confused by my description, you can only imagine how the actual scene plays out.
I cannot begin to account how many cringe-worthy moments there are in the film. If you were to make a drinking game out of every horrible, embarrassing line of dialogue, you would be unconscious before the film was halfway over. Here are a few gems:(Begin drinking now)”Harry Potter can kiss my ass!”, “That guy’s puking sure came at an opportune time!” and the classic(take two shots)”I’m going to make you my We-otch!!” Oh, the pain! J.S. Cardone really needs a dialogue filter. I hope he got one at Christmas.
Oddly, while watching this thing, I turned the sound down and just watched the boy warlocks flipping head over heels in the rain, using their ambiguously gay powers on one another, when it hit me that if this thing was from Hong Kong, Japan, or even better these days, Korea, a lot of ink might've been spilled in hyping the thing as a witchy-Battle Royale or something. Harlin does have a knack for staging these absurd, physics-challenging action scenes scored to a backbeat by TomandAndy. The movie might be just as bad, but with subtitles, it may have just worked as some kind of live action video game.
The Covenant has been released to DVD with your choice of watching it full (1.33:1) or widescreen (2.35:1). I still don’t know why anyone would want the full screen version. Even if you don’t have a widescreen TV (I don’t), the letterbox version is still preferable.
A “behind the scenes” segment, "Breaking the Silence: Exposing The Covenant," is hosted by Harlin himself. He discusses how much fun everyone had making this movie (more fun than I did watching it). Everyone joins in the mutual admiration society and Harlin comes off as an overly energetic wedding DJ. Watch how he shows off his own brand of wire-fu, a little Jeet-Fin-Do.
Some trailers and an “Audio Commentary” by the director round out the extras. Harlin keeps talking about how he and the cast kept asking over and over,”Is this a Covenant moment? Is that a Covenant shot?” - like they were making something that would be the next Matrix-“bullet-time” or something. How he can express enthusiasm over this film is amazing. He also talks about the boys getting into shape for their six-pack ab-flex bodies to be displayed in the various swimming team scenes. “They only ate apples and did crunches all day.” Harlin seems very proud of how they look. I mean that’s dedication to the craft of acting.
Harlin’s audio commentary leaves as much to be desired as his commentary on Exorcist: The Beginning. We get the usual praise for the dedicated cast and crew and to the wonderful magic of CGI. What we don’t get is why Harlin wanted to make this film at all. If it was for the paycheck, then so be it. If it was due to a lifelong fascination with the occult, fine. But please at least tell us something about what compelled you to tell this story. Harlin also has over 20 years as a surviving, successful motion picture director. Maybe he could shed some light on what his career has been like since the Cutthroat debacle and how a director keeps working after having his share of hits and misses. For that matter, I guess they could’ve added a historical feature discussing the true story of witchcraft in New England but since the film displays no historical accuracy whatsoever I assume this would also be absurd.
While it seems like I’m giving Renny Harlin and The Covenant a hard time, I do so with much love. A direct-to-DVD flick that escaped into theaters, the movie is quite awful but would make a great party film to watch with a bunch of friends who groove on bad movies. This one is really quite good... in a bad way.