When the opening titles of a so-called "suspense thriller" tell you that "at least three US presidents are known to have been members" of secret societies, you'd be forgiven for expecting a political drama in which the clandestine college group of the title is involved in something shady that goes "all the way to the top". It'd be a cliché, but it would be more interesting than The Skulls - a lame, campus-bound murder mystery which lacks scope, intelligence and credibility.
If this is a secret organisation, why are they based in a huge, gothic building which everyone refers to as The Skulls' building? Why do they brand members on their wrists with a picture of a skull? And why do they ostentatiously spoil their new recruits with Rolex watches, flash sports cars, high-class whores and chunky bank deposits? It's this shoddy, comic-book plotting that'll reduce any audience to a disbelief-spluttering froth.
The pretty, teen-scene cast don't help. Chumpy Dawson's Creeker Joshua Jackson is a bland protagonist, coming over like a B-list Wes Bentley. His boy-from-the-wrong-side-of-the-tracks act just doesn't wash, although this is more the fault of the screenwriters, who crowbar in some clumsy social commentary by making their Ivy League hero a poor orphan forced to flip burgers to pay his way through college. Jackson's on-screen rival Paul Walker (Varsity Blues) - as rich-kid Skull Caleb Mandrake - struggles to inject some sympathy and tragedy into his character, but fails to make him anything more than unlikeable and uninteresting.
Most unforgivable are the lazy dramatic devices. Scenes in which a bad guy has the hero at gunpoint, but is shot in the back by said hero's previously unseen ally at the last moment, were overused decades ago. That The Skulls uses this device twice in 10 minutes is proof that the movie is fast running out of the few ideas it had to start with.