- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 16, 2006

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group dedicated to improving the entertainment lives of families, provides reviews of the latest movies from a parenting perspective. For more reviews, click on commonsensemedia.org.

‘The Covenant’

Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images, sexual content, partial nudity and language.

Common Sense Media: Pause. For ages 13 and older.

** (out of five stars)

Running time: 97 minutes

Common Sense note: Parents should know that the movie posits four handsome prep school students as descendants of witches, with destructive powers and arrogant attitudes.

Families can talk about the seductive nature of “power,” whether metaphorical or literal. How does the movie suggest that power might be used in a positive way as well as to prove oneself superior to or to control others? How does the movie compare power to an addictive substance? You can discuss the Salem witch trials, jumping to conclusions or judging people who seem different.

Common Sense review: More nonsensical than scary, “The Covenant” conjures a cautionary tale for prep school pretties. The four coolest and most intimidating boys at Spenser Academy in Ipswich, Mass., share a secret, except that almost everyone seems to know something about it. As legend has it, their ancestors were witches, accused and abused at the Salem trials. Now the boys have superpowers: They can leap off cliffs, elude pesky local cops in nighttime car chases and seduce any girls they want.

As the movie begins, Caleb (Steven Strait) is about to turn 18, which means he’ll “ascend” to some next dimension of power. He’s smitten by the latest blond transfer to school, Sarah (Laura Ramsey). He starts warning his friends — Pogue (Taylor Kitsch), Reid (Toby Hemingway) and Tyler (Chace Crawford) — to cut back on the use of their powers because he has seen its effects on his father, a 44-year-old who has become wizened and immobile.

Around the time Laura shows up, another new student, Chase (Sebastian Stan), insinuates himself into the boys’ group. He seems naive and in need of protection, which Caleb offers, but it turns out Chase is the descendant of yet another witchy family and means to suck the power out of all the other boys. Point being, the first boys look rather harmless compared to evil Chase, whose addiction is leading him directly to Caleb’s father’s sorry state.

Chase reframes the good-bad dynamic in Ipswich: No longer is the bossy daredevil Pogue the reigning terror in town. Chase poses a real menace. Besides, he starts tormenting Laura with spells and spiders, so that Caleb must take a stand. Or rather, he has to engage in a knockdown, drag-out, hellfires-a-blazing battle at the old estate, where he and Chase throw pitchforks and plows at each other while thunder crashes.

It’s lots of noise for nothing. The effects look cheesy and the characters flummoxed by an incoherent script that mostly devises ways for them to throw one another against glass objects.

Sexual content: A girl in a shower is scared by a foggy shape, but her breasts remain unseen; in the boys’ locker room, shots of naked butts in the shower; passionate kissing in a car.

Language alert: Some profanity.

Violence alert: Fights between witch-boys are brutal but unbelievable; an estate caretaker aims a gun at intruders; a girl is assaulted by spiders; a girl suffers hives and unconsciousness under a spell; a barn burns during the big showdown scene.

Social-behavior alert: Caleb’s mother smokes cigarettes; prep school students drink beer and liquor at local bar; there is repeated discussion of the “power” as a drug to which users become addicted.

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