Deep within the hallowed walls of Ivy League's most prominent campus, there exists a secret society where power and influence are bred. Only a few are chosen to join the group where Presidents are groomed, wealthy bloodlines bond, and devious plots are hatched. For Luke McNamara (Joshua Jackson), an invitation to join the prestigious secret college organization, The Skulls, is a dream come true. But when a fellow pledge gets caught up in murder, Luke finds himself alone amidst the sinister and well-connected brotherhood and now he must summon the strength to stand up against immeasurable odds.
Think of the Skulls as a collegiate Freemason's society--an ultrasecret organization that opens the doors of power to a few lucky Ivy League students, including school rowing star Luke McNamara (Joshua Jackson), a poor kid with a misspent youth. "If it's secret and it's elite, it can't be good," cautions his journalist roommate, but the lure of lavish gifts and cabal-like ceremonies in torch-lit stone chambers is too much to resist--until his roomie is murdered and his own Skull "soulmate" Caleb Mandrake (Paul Walker) is the number one suspect.
There's a campy kick to the initiation ceremonies, ancient rituals in dungeonlike alcoves filled with haze and shadow, performed by enthralled frat boys, but as Jackson flounders at the center of a Skull conspiracy it spins into ludicrous melodrama. See the college president become a thug for the Skull godfather! See street punks become high-tech criminal masterminds! See the conspiracy collapse under its own absurdity!
Jackson is pretty much a dud as the well-meaning hero, but Walker, with flashing eyes under furrowed brow, is mesmerizing as a haunted rich kid torn between a ruthless, overbearing father (Craig T. Nelson) and his conscience. Director Rob Cohen drives the film at a galloping pace and fills it with foreboding images, but his humorless solemnity finally buries The Skulls in a heap of clichés. --Sean Axmaker