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Eric D. Snider

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Eric has been a film critic since 1999, and a beard wearer since 2008. He holds a degree in journalism and used to work in "the newspaper industry," back when that was a thing.

Eric’s Bad Movies: ‘The Skulls III’ (2004)

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Nobody remembers “The Skulls,” the 2000 thriller about an Ivy League university’s secret society that starred Joshua Jackson and Paul Walker. As with most things in which Paul Walker appears, all memory of “The Skulls” evaporates as soon as you finish watching it. But the people who own the sequel rights to inane but mildly profitable teen-friendly thrillers remembered, and they made two straight-to-video followups that honored the spirit of the original by being completely disposable and maybe having Paul Walker (IMDb says they didn’t, but who can really say for sure?).

Now, these sequels have nothing to do with the first movie besides featuring the same not-at-all-secret secret club at the same unnamed university whose logo is a “Y” but it’s NOT YALE DON’T SAY YALE THE LAWYERS ARE WATCHING. In the first two movies, the plot is that someone new joins the Skulls and witnesses a murder. But the third film, not content to follow the formula, adds a bold twist: someone new joins the Skulls and witnesses a murder and is also a woman!

She is Taylor Brooks (Clare Kramer), she’s a student at Y— University, and she is scrappy as all hell. Her older brother committed suicide after failing to get into the Skulls because he knew it disappointed their father (Karl Pruner), who’s a congressman and a Skull and a poor father. Rep. Brooks, already disappointed by his son’s failure and subsequent suicide, is further disappointed by Taylor’s vagina-having, which prevents her from joining the Skulls and making her father’s life worth living.

Taylor’s emo boyfriend, Ethan (Shaun Sipos), is pledging the Skulls, or rushing, or auditioning, or whatever you do to secret societies, which only makes Taylor more antsy. She wants the Skulls to allow women into their creepy hoods-and-cloaks fraternity too! Ethan is embarrassed when Taylor says this to one of the Skulls, a preternaturally preppy Aryan named, of course, Roger (Bryce Johnson). They have a lovers’ spat where Ethan urges Taylor to please not emasculate him in front of his friends, or in front of guys whose friendship he is hoping to win by toadying up to them and performing humiliating initiation rituals for their amusement.

Taylor goes home to sulk with her chirpy roommate, Veronica (Brooke D’Orsay), about the unfairness of it all. Veronica says, “There ought to be a law,” which is totally a thing that young people say in the 21st century. THIS GIVES TAYLOR AN IDEA! She rushes to the library to have a montage of looking things up in books (it is less exciting than it sounds), and after much research and analysis she reaches an astonishing conclusion: there IS a law! It turns out public universities are not allowed to discriminate against women. Who knew?* She goes to the Dean to file a discrimination claim.

So far, it might sound like “The Skulls III” is not so much a dumb thriller about a secret society as it is a dumb drama about a feminist heroine breaking through the glass ceiling in a vain attempt to win her father’s love. The movie was worried you would think that, so it has set the whole thing up as a flashback: in the present, Taylor is in a police interrogation room being grilled about a murder. (Murder! That’s exciting!) Everything we’re seeing is what she’s telling the cops, who are understandably frustrated by her meandering, pointless story that has been going on for 30 minutes so far without addressing the murder. “You have to understand how it was,” she insists, before returning to her completely non-murder-related narrative.

Well, the Skulls are forced to let an icky girl audition to be in their club, and Taylor undergoes the same vaguely satanic initiation rituals as the guys. One of her fellow pledges, Brian (Steve Braun), is nice to her, while the others are resentful and sullen about having to wear pants and cut back on the farting in the clubhouse from now on. There is eventually a murder, thank goodness, much to the relief of the cops who have been listening to her ramble. They think she did it. They have this exchange:

TAYLOR: It’s not true!
COP: Then what is true?
TAYLOR: I don’t know!

So it’s a heated battle of wits here.

Once the Skulls’ lawyers show up at the police station (the perk of being a Skull), Taylor is free to go and investigate who’s framing her. Brian the nice guy and Veronica the chirpy roommate help her track down a forged email that was involved in the framing, using some high-tech jargon that was way ahead of its time in 2004:

VERONICA: We don’t know who [sent it], but we know the address of the computer.
BRIAN: What do you mean by ‘address’?
VERONICA: Well, every computer has a unique address embedded into every outgoing email. It’s called the Internet protocol address.

From there it’s your basic framed-for-murder plot, where the businessman father of a current Skull framed Taylor to strong-arm her Congressman father into giving him a government contract. It’s the kind of movie where people shout things like “If the police take me in now, I’ll never get to the truth!” and “I’m in too deep to walk away now!” and “You have no idea what kind of people you’re dealing with!” and so forth. In other words, it’s the second straight-to-video sequel to a movie that barely warranted existing in the first place. Paul Walker was OK, though, if he was in it (must verify this).

*Everyone except Taylor.


Categories: Columns

Tags: Eric d. snider, Eric's bad movies, Joshua jackson, NOT Yale University, Paul walker, The Skulls III, Yale University