Take Two

by Luke Bumgarten & r & & r & The Covenant & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he Covenant begins with something of an overture. Against the sound wall that is a wanky remix of White Zombie's "More Human Than Human," a short prologue is seared into the screen in flaming letters. Seconds later, we see that the film was directed by Renny Harlin (you know, Cliffhanger). The flames now make sense: Harlin sold his soul long ago. He's an acolyte (drone) of the brotherhood of enlightenment through sex, drugs and manufactured adrenaline, so teen flicks must be his boon. At the outset of The Covenant, it's clear one of the few remaining practitioners of the cloyingly phallic hard rock montage is at work plying his trade.

& r & The Covenant's main man-witch is Caleb. He drives a Mustang. Pogue is the ripped, European-looking sidekick. He rides what looks like a Bugatti. Reid is the bleached blond rabble-rouser. He drives an H2. Everything you need to know about these characters you can learn from the vehicles they drive.

& r & The cute-ish but mostly mute fourth member of the covenant doesn't seem to have a car. That's how you know he's largely irrelevant. (This is a film about witches; the most common sign of witchcraftery is the pentagram; pentagrams are five-pointed figures; thus any covenant worth its salt will involve five people. Poor mute Tyler Sims, then, is merely a continuity placeholder.) Each of these witches-in-training has his own skill set. Pogue is pretty and quick and, we'd guess, agile, but that's it. He looks badass and he's loud, but he lacks the muscle to back his chutzpah. Reid, conversely, has some degree of muscle, but it's crude and unfocused. Caleb, as you might guess, is the happy medium, forceful but responsive -- exactly what Ford's new Mustang is supposed to be.

& r & The thing that keeps the four from using their powers willy-nilly (and they actually call it "using," as in "someone was using," and "Did you use last night?" -- effectively juxtaposing magic with heroin) is that it's addictive and it slowly kills them. Just like using drugs. Do we have the seeds of a message?

& r & No, of course not. Harlin loves decadence, and what's more decadent than teen drug use? No, what we have here is the synergistic intersection of (a) an absolutely necessary devil's bargain (what makes you strong kills you); and (b) the co-opting of drug jargon to make a threadbare conceit (power-mad high schoolers) sexy. Anything that might feel like a moral is just a happy coincidence. This isn't a moral movie. If it were, it would have taken the time to establish a values system that would then be fought over. Instead, we get meatheads fighting meatheads for nothing more than power. There's no drama because we're told early on that the evil(er) meathead, the maniacally retarded Chase -- descendant of a long-lost fifth family in the covenant (pentagrams, remember?) -- is gravely mistaken about the nature of his power. He thinks more power is the solution to the power-kills-you problem. This Tim Taylor approach to witchcraft is obviously doomed to failure, so nothing dire like world conquest hangs in the balance. The only things that do hinge on Chase's power grab are the lives of a few people we've become acquainted with in the course of an hour. If these people (the other four covenanters, their girlfriends) mattered to us, the bad kid's shortsighted evil would be troubling. They don't, though, so who cares?

& r & High school dudes care, for one. If there was any doubt that's the target demographic, check the piss-poor Tekken bout we're treated to in lieu of a climax: It's Caleb vs. Chase! Spinning, jumping, shooting witchy fireballs! So, less like Tekken, then, than Street Fighter. Renny's been a decade behind the times for decades.