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Faculty, The (1998)

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Score: 2/10

Genre: Sci-Fi Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 44 min.

Release Date: December 25th, 1998 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Robert Rodriguez Actors: Jordana Brewster, Clea DuVall, Josh Hartnett, Laura Harris, Salma Hayek, Famke Janssen, Robert Patrick, Usher Raymond, Jon Stewart, Elijah Wood

A

fter school, football coach Joe Willis (Robert Patrick) attacks Principal Valerie Drake (Bebe Neuwirth), who previously conducted a meeting in which budgets were slashed for all the departments except, ironically, football. He stabs her through the hand with a pencil before another teacher who stayed late, Mrs. Olson (Piper Laurie), jabs her repeatedly with scissors. The following morning, class is in session at Herrington High School of Ohio, the home of the Hornets, and the principal is nowhere to be found.

The setting is a stereotypical yet believable recreation of cliques, bullies, athletes, and staff. Editor-in-chief of the school paper, Delilah (Jordana Brewster), is the popular girl who talks down to everyone; Zeke (Josh Hartnett), repeating his senior year, is the cool kid who supplies drugs, fake IDs, and bootlegged pornography to other students; Casey (Elijah Wood) is the timid, wimpy boy, beat up numerous times prior to first period; Stokely (Clea Duvall) is the goth gal who pretends to be a lesbian so that classmates leave her alone; Stan Rosado (Shawn Hatosy) is the captain of the Hornets, who wants to quit to focus on his grades; and Marybeth Louise Hutchinson (Laura Harris) is the new girl from Atlanta who sports an odd accent and clearly doesn’t fit in, but tries relentlessly to make friends. The teachers are equally diverse, including frequently sick, epileptic Nurse Rosa Harper (Salma Hayek), painfully shy English teacher Elizabeth Burke (Famke Janssen), curious science teacher Professor Edward Furlong (Jon Stewart), and the very elderly Mrs. Brummel (Susan Willis).

When Casey and Delilah hide in a closet in the faculty lounge, they witness Coach Willis and Mrs. Olson attack the nurse, apparently converting her into a hypnotized, emotionless alien zombie. They also discover the corpse of Mrs. Brummel, who was supposed to have been hospitalized and suffering from the effects of cancer. Casey quickly realizes that the teachers are amphibious, parasitic monsters that are taking over the town, starting with professionals and the police before working their way down to high school students.

People bump into each other, literally, more times than can be counted. Several fall down, stumble, are pushed around, or run into things. At regular intervals, for the sake of jump scares, characters collide with torsos; but it rapidly becomes so commonplace that it appears upsettingly nonsensical. Perhaps it’s not as silly as the special effects ideas, which include assaults by severed fingers, wiry red tendrils thrashing from wounds, and obviously fake blood – along with Zeke spontaneously turning into an intelligent scientist to clarify the extraterrestrial situation.

With its adolescent spin, the film unashamedly borrows the plot from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” – not only acknowledging that entity’s existence but also further rolling famous science-fiction authors and filmmakers into the script (mentioning the notion of Robert A. Heinlein’s “The Puppet Masters” serving as a template for “The Body Snatchers” and insinuating that Emmerich and Spielberg gained inspiration from otherworldly visitations). Director Robert Rodriguez and screenwriter Kevin Williamson (who also penned “Scream,” Scream 2,” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer”) believe that if they can define elements as homage, it’s not theft. But the story isn’t clever enough to come off as a respectful nod to sci-fi staples – just recycled tropes inserted into a contemporary teen setting. It then proceeds to steal sequences from another quintessential classic, “The Thing,” with its thrillingly paranoid personas continually testing and doubting their humanity.

It’s particularly appropriate that Robert Patrick, the iconic T-1000 from “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” is cast in a lead role as the antagonistic sports coach, shouting threateningly at his players with colorful cursing, though his involvement can’t redeem the end result. The challenging of authority figures – and eventually combating them with extravagantly lethal force – should have been a welcome rush for juvenile audiences, but the end result is a plodding, rarely scary, poorly designed mess of pitifully executed concepts. At least there are one or two scenes with practical alien effects that look briefly amusing.

– Mike Massie

 



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