Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle The Faculty

By Marc Savlov

DECEMBER 28, 1998:  D: Robert Rodriguez; with Elijah Wood, Jordana Brewster, Clea DuVall, Laura Harris, Josh Hartnett, Shawn Hatosy, Piper Laurie, Bebe Neuwirth, Robert Patrick, Jon Stewart, Salma Hayek, Famke Janssen, Usher Raymond. (R, 110 min.)

One of these days, somebody's going to build a full-fledged drive-in theatre here in town for the express purpose of showing Robert Rodriguez's films. Think of it: lawn chairs in the back of your 4x4, a six-pack of Shiner Bock, and Rodriguez's movies non-stop from dusk 'til dawn. Until that happens, though, we're just going to have to make do with catching the local auteur's work at the multiplex. Co-written by Scream scribe Kevin Williamson and George Huang, The Faculty is pure Rodriguez, jam-packed with action, suspense, humor, horror, and plenty of cinematic homages. While it may suffer a bit from excess character clutter (nearly 10 major characters throughout), it's nonetheless a slam-bang, sci-fi actioner, relentlessly paced and edited, with a pounding soundtrack and some ingenious aliens courtesy of Berni Wrightson and KNB Effects. Wood plays Casey, the introverted class misfit at Ohio's Herrington High School. When he chances upon a bizarre, slug-like life form while shooting pictures on the football field one day, Casey unwittingly uncovers a plot by aliens to infect the school's faculty and, eventually, the whole planet. This sly spin on the high school caste system (think The Breakfast Club by way of Invasion of the Body Snatchers) is pure Williamson; the script is rife with knowing dialogue and genre in-jokes, and it's a hoot to play "spot the allusion." John Carpenter's The Thing is hilariously echoed in a scene in which Casey and his classmates Zeke (Hartnett), Stokely (DuVall), Mary Beth (Harris) and others must prove their humanity by snorting vials of diuretic No-Doz, while lesser genre highlights such as Night of the Kreeps are given their due as well. Rodriguez's film takes off like a rocket and never lets up from the get-go. The deadly faculty itself - football coach Willis (Patrick), Principal Drake (Neuwirth), English teacher Miss Burke (Janssen), and Piper Laurie's Miss Olsen - are a wonderfully creepy crew, morphing into slimy, Lovecraftian horrors and sprouting multi-tendrilled shadows at every turn. If anything, Rodriguez packs too much of a good thing into an already crowded film. Just as one hair-raising horror dies down, two more take its place. It's a rush, yes, but sometimes I caught myself wishing for a breather of sorts. Still, no one around these days edits with such sublime accuracy as Rodriguez. A master of the smash-cut, The Faculty is overflowing with the director's "I'll try anything once" spirit, and that's what makes the film such witty, freaky fun. Besides, any film that can make the high school experience even worse than I remember it is aces in my book. (12/25/98)

3.5 stars

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