‘The Faculty’ – Future Stars Held Back in Mediocre B-Movie

Elijah Wood! Josh Hartnett! Usher! So why doesn't this shocker let loose?

Robert Rodriguez’s “The Faculty” (1998) is to the horror genre what “Young Guns” (1988) is to the western.

Its youthful, sometimes very fun and overly familiar and it plays the same notes we’ve heard many times before.

The Faculty | Official Trailer (HD) - Salma Hayek, Jon Stewart | MIRAMAX

A group of very-’90s teens led by Josh Hartnett and Elijah Wood, become aware that the teachers at their high school are behaving in bizarre, unfathomable ways.

Everything that made these no-nonsense teachers intimidating before is now elevated, as the gym teacher (Robert Patrick, visibly having a blast) is now an even more pronounced bully, the mousy Miss Burke (Famke Janssen) turns aggressive and the principal (Bebe Neuwirth) takes on an ice cold stare.

If you’ve seen John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982) or Abel Ferrera’s “Body Snatchers” (1993), then you’ve not only watched the superior version of this but could ably reference all the moments from those movies that get fully ripped off here. Rodriguez gives this the R.L. Stine kick it needs to succeed on its own terms but the expected excitement from his “El Mariachi” (1992) and “Desperado” (1995) are absent.

The kinetic energy you’d expect from Rodriguez just isn’t here.

Once it finally cuts loose in the third act and fully invests in becoming an all-out creature feature, “The Faculty” belatedly delivers on its promise. Otherwise, the mix of gore, cheeky humor teen posturing is uneasy.

With scenes of teens shooting and attacking their teachers (because they’re aliens…they think), “The Faculty” could only have been released a year before the Columbine school massacre.

In fact, this was the last hurrah for the Dimension annual Kevin Williamson/Christmas horror movie. The screenwriter’s momentum from Wes Craven’s “Scream” (1996) and “Scream 2” (1997) and “The Faculty” came to a halt with the 1999 release of the idiotic “Teaching Mrs. Tingle.”

As in Williamson’s “Dawson’s Creek,” the dialog is often too showy and literate to come from the mouths of teens this dopey.

The Faculty (1/11) Movie CLIP - A New Species (1998) HD

Most of the conversations are crass and ugly, with a lesbian subtext it doesn’t know what to do with but an exploration of high school movie cliches that go into overdrive. For example, the “test” scene from “The Thing” becomes the ultimate confrontation of peer pressure here.

The whole conformist vs. outsider teens gets the expected extraterrestrial spin, but the most unique angle here is that, as evidenced from the opening scene, the teachers are full of as much angst as their students.

The large ensemble cast isn’t properly utilized, as it feels like Patrick, Laurie and Neuwirth are absent from too much of the second and third act. Meanwhile, Hartnett has too much screen time and Wood seems like he was belatedly made the film’s lead (the awful closing scene reeks of a reshoot and seems to confirm a possible test screening repositioning of Wood’s stature).

Most of the teens are unlikable, with Wood and Laura Harris being the biggest exceptions. The killer teachers are best, with Patrick absolutely terrific (the scenes of him standing ominously outside in the way of sprinklers is hilarious).

Until it finally goes full tilt in the last reel, “The Faculty” is too hit and miss to be as good as you’d hope, but the best scenes are impressive. Even the obvious CGI somehow works because the monster concept is so impressively gross.

An early scene of a creature evolving in a fish tank is intriguing, while most of this is too routine, both in the writing and direction.

Perhaps a wilder genre director like Sam Raimi could have truly raised hell with the pulpy material; it wouldn’t be until “Planet Terror” (2007) that Rodriguez finally made the kind of disreputable B-movie that this should have been.

If Rodriguez got to go unhinged directing buddy Quentin Tarantino’s dusty “From Dust Til Dawn” (1996) screenplay two years earlier, he should have been allowed to give this the same sleazy jolt. There are scenes here that truly deliver what you’d want from a midnight movie but compared to most other Rodriguez films, this one is especially safe.

A handful of good performances and memorable set pieces ultimately save “The Faculty” but it comes factory made from Dimension, when it should have felt like the early days of New Line Cinema investing in the dementia of Elm Street.

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