The Covenant
Screen Gems // PG-13 // September 8, 2006
Review by Brian Orndorf | posted September 8, 2006
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"The Covenant" doesn't handle like the work of a director who has survived the business for over 20 years. This is the type of crude, featureless filmmaking that typically comes from a wet-behind-the-ear kid fresh from his latest Chamillionaire video shoot. Maybe this is where Renny Harlin's deflated career is headed.

But it's hard to stay angry at Harlin. After all, this is the guy who once turned out such unreasonably satisfying action entertainment as "Die Hard 2," "The Long Kiss Goodnight," and "Deep Blue Sea." Harlin is a gifted popcorn filmmaker who has fallen on hard times recently, taking absurd director-for-hire gigs ("Exorcist: The Beginning") that fail to offer him a scope to soothe his imagination. With "The Covenant," Harlin hits rock bottom.

If I had the energy, I supposed I could tackle an explanation of the film's plot. Trouble is, I'm not confident I would be anywhere near the actual story. Purportedly birthed from the mind of a Screen Gems executive, then passed down to writer J.S. Cardone (of the equally stinky vampire bomb, "The Forsaken"), "Covenant" is one kooky stab at invented mythology, where terms like "Darklings" and "Book of Damnation" help to both fake depth in this mess and cloud the minds of the audience from realizing they're in the midst of a turkey. I'll leave it to boy-crazy 12 year-old girls (the target demo) to decipher the actual history behind this endlessly expository garbage.

Sure, the film screams about prophecies, 400-year-old bloodlines, and magic, but essentially, "Covenant" is about young, wet, "CW" ready underwear models running around hurling "magical" gelatin blobs at each other while they compete for screen time with their own abs. Think "The Craft" plus "The Lost Boys" plus "Highlander," minus entertainment value and fundamental storytelling clarity. Harlin at least tries to give the audience some pretty autumnal pictures, and there's one terrific, short-lived spider attack sequence that led me to believe that he can still turn on the fear factor when he gives a damn. Mostly though, "Covenant" is a dreary September throw away (another film not screened for critics to trick you out of your money) that somehow becomes a competition over who can give the worst performance of the year midway through this bore.

Actor Steven Strait wins hands down. Think Mario Lopez crossed with Vin Diesel's clubbed-out line delivery, and you have the bottomlessly awful Strait ("Sky High"). Like everyone else in the picture, Strait was not hired for his acting skills, but how me looks in a Speedo or glistening in bed. Too bad he's not of much use beyond those requirements; every single scene with him forced to explain the witlessly complex plot felt like a cheese grater on my ears and eyes. Thankfully, he's not hung out to dry, with actor Sebastian Stan, pulling up later in the film as the bad guy, matching Strait in the "make it stop!" performance department. The film climaxes with these two duking it out with CG thunderbolts in a ratty old barn. I wished death upon both characters, and that's not how this is supposed to work.



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