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The Faculty
1998 - R - 104 Mins.
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Producer: Robert Rodriguez
Written By: Kevin Williamson
Starring: Elijah Wood, Josh Hartnett, Shawn Hatosy, Laura Harris, Jordanna Brewster, Clea DuVall, Patrick Stewart, Piper Laurie, Famke Janssen, Jon Stewart, Christopher McDonald
Review by: John Ulmer
   

It be dangerous up ahead, Mr. Frodo. Cover my back.
"The Faculty" piggybacks a lot of great horror films, but also provides a great modern perspective of them all in this multi-remake. Its references range from "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (the film's primary inspiration), to "Pod People." But this is no surprise -- the film was penned by Kevin Williamson, the guy behind the self-aware horror hit "Scream" One and Two, as well as "I Know What You Did Last Summer." (One of my least favorite horror films of all time, surprisingly.)

This is one of his best efforts. It involves a pack of kids at a high school in Idaho who begin to suspect that their teachers are aliens from another planet. A comical idea, yes? That's what I thought. Then I started getting into the movie and realized that it was one of the most fun -- if silliest -- horror films in recent memory.

John Hughes would love this film. We have The Nerd (Elijah Wood), The Criminal (Josh Hartnett), The Jock (Shawn Hatosy), The Princess (Jordanna Brewster), The New Hot Babe (Laura Harris), and The Basketcase (Clea DuVall).

As I sit at my keyboard and recall the plot and characters, I realize just how routine and clichéd the film really is. But none of these clichés struck me as I viewed the film, which is a bit startling in retrospect.

The Nerd, a pre-"Lord of the Rings" Elijah Wood, begins to suspect that his teachers are aliens after the football coach (Patrick Stewart, the T-1000 from "Terminator 2") inserts a strange alien creature into another teacher's (Salma Hayek) ear. A moment later she is fine, and rejects the boy's claims that the coach assaulted her.

Then the school begins to be taken over by the alien species, which thrive on H20 and seem intent on taking over the entire planet. Before they do, however, the pack of kids form together and try to stop the aliens. The Criminal (who is really smart but plays down his genius) creates caffeine-based drugs at his home that dehydrate the aliens and destroy them. So with drugs in hand, the kids march against the aliens in an effort to stop the queen alien. "Since when did you become Sigourney Weaver?" one of the kids asks another.

Where, I wonder, are these kids' parents? As these events go on, they seem pretty careless. The Criminal has an entire drug factory in the basement of his house. Do his parents know this? Do they even care? The film doesn't provide a very large backdrop. It is so weak with character introductions, in fact, that it supplies us with freeze-frame name credits every time we see one of the kids' faces. (This is usually an early warning side of a bad movie -- check out "Dude, Where's My Car?" if you need more proof.)

The cast is pretty impressive; along with all the other actors I mentioned above, there's also Christopher McDonald, Jon Stewart, Piper Laurie and Famke Janssen. Pretty impressive. I wondered what drew them to the project before I saw the movie. Then I understood.

This is fun. People don't see the fun in this movie because they criticize the flaws too much. It's not meant to be taken seriously -- in case you haven't figured out by now, "The Faculty" is entirely referential and tongue-in-cheek. It's not a remake, as so many critics perceived after their screenings. It's a subtly funny parody.

The film is directed by Robert Rodriguez, who is infamous for having strong style but weak plots. His film "El Mariachi" was the breakthrough, and it was followed by two sequels, "Desperado" and "Once Upon a Time in Mexico," both starring Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek. Hayek is in just about every single one of Rodriguez's films -- she was even in last year's "Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over." I wonder if his inspiration is John Hughes, who constantly cast Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald and John Candy in his films.

Here Hayek has a small part, and the film mostly belongs to the teenage characters. As I think over everything that happened in the movie, it's almost laughably bad -- the things that happen are ridiculous. Very clichéd.

But yet I had a lot of fun watching "The Faculty," and any movie that convinces me it isn't stupid when, in fact, it is, is worthy of a recommendation in my book. This is a well-done horror film. I wish they were all as fun and tongue-in-cheek as "The Faculty." Then I wouldn't hate the genre as much as I do at the present.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental.
  3.5 out of 5 stars

 
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