When poor students and rich students cross paths in teen dramas, poverty traditionally implies integrity; wealth suggests spinelessness. A boy without money gets the girl because he’s adorably down-to-earth; a trust-fund son may be handsome, but he’s destined to peruse his portfolio alone (unless he atones, as in ”Here on Earth”). So in The Skulls, Luke (”Dawson’s Creek”er Joshua Jackson), the hardworking scholarship student and sculling champ at a Yale-like university, is bound to teach his privileged classmate Caleb (”Varsity Blues”’ Paul Walker) an important lesson in character strengthening.
Millions of fans of Jackson and his personable, Hanks-style charms may say this is as it should be. And giving fans what they want is what this disposable but diverting teenscapade, directed by Rob Cohen (”Daylight”) and written by John Pogue (”U.S. Marshals”), is all about. Luke and Caleb are assigned to one another as ”soulmates” in the titular club, a secret society modeled on real Yale’s real Skull & Bones. (Bushes George and George W. are members.) Of course, as a prole, Luke is skeptical, but he’s banking on law school tuition generously paid by Skulls brethren, so he goes through the mumbo jumbo initiation; Caleb, wilting scion of the ruling class, slides in on the coattails of his Skulls father (Craig T. Nelson), a prominent judge now working his connections for a seat on the Supreme Court.
As Luke’s posh but unaffected girlfriend, Chloe (”Popular”’s Leslie Bibb), and his journalist/rowing teammate/only-black-guy-on-campus roomie, Will (”He Got Game”’s Hill Harper), tell him, ”If it’s secret and it’s elite, it can’t be good.” But it takes the death of Will, while reporting on the Skulls for the campus newspaper, to properly ignite Luke’s workingman outrage.
That good will prevail is obvious. Whether Cohen and Pogue offer this antielitist, anti-hypocrisy, pro-feel-good entertainment as their own small contribution to the Democratic party remains a secret.