The Faculty Review

by "Harvey S. Karten" (film_critic AT compuserve DOT com)
December 27th, 1998


Reviewed by Harvey Karten, Ph.D.
Dimension Films
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Writer: David Wechter (story) and Bruce Kimmel
Cast: Elijah Wood, Piper Laurie, Christopher McDonald, Bebe Neuwirth, Robert Patrick, Usher Raymond, Jon Stewart, Clea DuVall, Susan Willis, Salma Hayek, Daniel von Bargen, Laura Harris, Josh Harnett, Famke Jannsen, Harry Knowles
    In "The Faculty" a bunch of high-school kids discover that their teachers are from another planet. So what's new? We knew that for quite a while but we differed about the location and makeup of the world that they were from. [Critic's aside]: Truth to tell, high-school teachers are from the planet Masochist in the galaxy Milquetoast Way. They take guff from the kids who think they're being picked on, given the wrong grades, or being forced to think. They take nonsense from administrators whose principal preoccupation is not with learning. They accept drivel from the public who resent the decent vacation time; from the government, which does not allow them the right to strike because they are not "working people": from parents, who complain that "no one else ever criticized my child."

But enough asides. For the most part there's nothing new about this movie, either, since it borrows liberally from "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and "Alien." Nonetheless it starts off on an interesting track only to deteriorate when the new forms of life begin to take on the shape of spiders and octopuses. If only director Robert Rodriguez avoided the special effects baloney (which wouldn't scare a six-year-old) and kept the aliens looking pretty much human, he would have served up an involving drama about the attempt by bug- like forms parasitically to take up residence in the bodies of human beings--having discovered that they depend on liquid to remain alive and that we people are seventy percent water. Goodness knows he has a likable enough cast of teenagers-- two strikingly attractive and appealing young women (and one who is passable), bouncing their ideas and bodies off three basically decent guys.

    The story opens on an Ohio institution, Herrington High, situated in a town that tolerates it only because it has a crackerjack football team. Coached by hotheaded Willis (Robert Patrick), the team is captained by Stan (Shawn Hatosy), who quits the squad a day before the big game to concentrate his mind on academics. This puts him into conflict with the head cheerleader, Delilah (Jordana Brewster), who reminds him of the American tradition: head cheerleaders date only football captains.

    Based on a story by David Wechter which has been adapted by Bruce Kimmel's screenplay, "The Faculty" is particularly reliable in its portrait of a typical middle-class school, filled with hormone-driven teens who freely curse everything that crosses their path, push into one another, and generally muddle their way through their trying years on the way to a diploma. They try to deal with their loneliness (newbie Marybeth, played by Laura Harris has just begun her new life in Ohio while the allegedly lesbian Stokely, played by Clea Du Vall is generally avoided). They put up with the taunt of bullies, as when the nerdish Casey (Elijah Wood) is shoved around as though he were a football. They look up to a drug supplier, Zeke (Josh Harnett), who despite repeating his senior year is surprisingly articulate--a wiseguy who in one great scene taunts a repressed teacher by offering her free, cherry-flavored condoms.

    When the coach, then others on the faculty like Miss Olsen (Piper Laurie) and the school principal, Drake (Bebe Neuwirth), begin looking at acting zombieish, they promote the suspicions of the primary circle of teens, who realize that they have a bug up their ears, an insect determined to take over the bodies of all human beings on the earth. At this point the movie turns into a whodunit as these kids perceive that one of them is the host, the queen bee as it were, who has started the epidemic.

    One flaw is that while the infected faculty members take on the appearance of ghouls while the infected youngsters become simply docile, the chief perpetrator continues to look wholly innocent and thorougly human. Also, we never really see how the people become infected, though we get hints that the bugs are placed into the ears of the innocent victims in much the way that Claudius poisons Gertrude's husband, who is Hamlet's father.

    These flaws are minor when pitted against the greatest fault. We can accept Principal Drake as the evil administrator who calls on the school intercom for groups of students to report to her office for the insect treatment. But when characters begin turning into spiders, as does a teacher played by Famke Jannsen; and into an octopus, as does the ringleader of the infected ones; then an otherwise satisfying film turns just plain silly. "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," the classic of the subgenre, was anything but nonsensical. Opening in 1956 during the McCarthy era, it warned against mindless conformity. The only thing "The Faculty" counsels is to stay away from people drinking inordinate amounts of bottled water.

Rated R. Running Time: 111 minutes. (C) 1998
Harvey Karten

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