Thursday, April 15, 2010

Film Review: THE FACULTY (1998, Robert Rodriguez)

Stars: 3.75 of 5.
Running Time: 104 minutes.
Tag-line: "Six students are about to find out their teachers really are from another planet."
Notable Cast or Crew: Josh Hartnett, Elijah Wood, Robert Patrick, Clea DuVall, Laura Harris, Jordana Brewster, Shawn Hatosy, Salma Hayek, Famke Janssen, Piper Laurie, Christopher McDonald, Bebe Neuwirth, Usher Raymond, Jon Stewart, Daniel von Bargen, Summer Phoenix. Music by Marco Beltrami (THE HURT LOCKER, 3:10 TO YUMA). Written by Kevin Williamson (SCREAM, DAWSON'S CREEK).
Best one-liner: "Body Snatchers is a story somebody made up, dingus. It's located in the fiction section of the library." –"Yeah, so is Schindler's List." Whewww.

Well, so far this week I've discussed a few terrific films from what I'll call the "Golden Era of Horror/Sci-Fi Remakes (1978-1988)," so now it seems only proper to look at one from a little further down the line. THE FACULTY. This film is packed to the brim with things that I should hate- marketable young stars, jaw-droppingly pathetic CGI, and a self-reflexivity that's at best, bratty, and at worst, dangerous. (Dangerous in terms of what the 'Kevin Williamson model' would go on to inspire- and I feel like it's leaked out of 90's horror films and into 00's-10's corporate culture- I see so many advertisements and commercials these days possessing the "this is so bad but aren't we so clever for making it so bad *wink wink wink wink*" and the "if we acknowledge that it's bad, then we take the wind out of the sails of any actual criticism" aesthetic.)

A picture of Kevin Williamson.

Despite it all, however, THE FACULTY is a fairly likable movie. John Carpenter was a master craftsman, and, I daresay one of the cinema's best storytellers in the past twenty-five years. Howard Hawks was his hero, and you can feel Hawks' power coursing through Carpy's veins. Robert Rodriguez is cut from the same cloth, except for the fact that he worships Carpy. (At the tender age of thirteen, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK inspired him to become a filmmaker.) And though Rodriguez's films can be absolutely kickass (though just as often can be exceedingly dopey), one can plainly see that some of the secrets of the masters are being lost in the 'trickle down,' as it were. The qualities, however, that intercede on occasion to save Rodriguez (and, to some extent, THE FACULTY) include his natural proclivity toward visceral, immersive editing (he almost exclusively edits his own pictures) and his unwavering dedication toward over-the-top imagery. (I must say that his wholehearted embracement of CGI disgusts me, but in the majority of his films, he does exercise at least some degree of restraint.) Regardless, on to the film:

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. I have watched THE FACULTY on multiple occasions, I have derived enjoyment from the experience, and I plan, one day, to watch it again. I could plead ignorance, but I know better. I love THE THING '82, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS '78, all of which THE FACULTY shamelessly rips off and then pretends that it's okay because there's a wink and a nod and a slick post-modernism. There's CGI so embarrassingly substandard that it borders on blasphemy. It's a rare special effect, indeed, which is so poor that you find yourself reaching for the cat o' nine tails so that you may flog yourself for daring to enjoy the movie which contained it, but THE FACULTY contains several such effects.


How bout some groan-inducing homage to THE THING?

And as a side note, who do we blame for this cringeworthy (freeze frame/character name) 90's (and beyond) storytelling device? Do we blame Sergio Leone? He couldn't have known what it would come to...

And why they gotta do a 90's teen spin on the blood test scene from THE THING??

Then there's the matter of Alice Cooper's classic "I'm Eighteen" being limply covered by Creed. Perhaps the less said, the better, but it would seem that the hard rockin' gods are just as offended as the sci-fi actioner gods. And even John Hughes is pissed because (excluding Laura Harris' Southern-fried transfer student) the final survivors are THE EXACT SAME ARCHETYPES AS THE BREAKFAST CLUB.

What a weirdo

Of course, one could make the argument that these 'sins' I've outlined are some of the film's strengths, but allow me to tell where the film's assets truly lie- the title. Or, to be more specific: the title characters.

Infected by slug-like parasites from space, Robert Patrick is peppy, cheerful, and absolutely out of his fucking gourd. He's having more fun than the rest of the cast combined.

This is the kind of part he was born to play, so why the hell didn't he have more juicy, high-profile roles of this caliber?! (Well, I guess there's always COP LAND and THE DIG.) Not to be outdone, Piper Laurie's ready, able, and willing to kick it up a notch. At one point, she even gets a dated, silly SCARY-JUMP-CUT-ZOOM:

Rounding it out are a zany Jon Stewart (who makes one final appearance that's worth staying for the end credits):

a deranged, drunken Daniel von Bargen; and a glassy-eyed, spine-chilling Bebe Neuwirth.

So....almost four stars (I guess)... may my penance commence.

-Sean Gill


J.D. said...

Yeah, this is certainly not Rodriguez's finest hour and I believe he's since distanced himself from it. If memory serves it was one of those paycheck gigs and feels like it. But at least he did pay homage to Carpenter with all them references to THE THING (which he copped to in interviews). This is a pretty decent time waster but certainly not on the level of SIN CITY or PLANET TERROR - his two best films, IMO. Alto, I do have a soft spot for DESPERADO if only for the gratuitous John Woo homage.

Sean Gill said...

Yeah- I do find things to like in even the mediocre Rodriguez flicks, but you're right, PLANET TERROR (and SIN CITY) are probably his finest hour. Though I do respect the loopy (lack of?) standards of ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO. Most of his films are sort of Leone, Woo, and Carpenter tossed into a blender, and I can't necessarily consider that a bad thing.

J.D. said...

I agree! I certainly can't fault his cinematic heroes and you're right about ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO. Man, I haven't watched it in ages but I remember digging it. Never cared for his SPY KIDS all that much but I am stoked to see MACHETE when it finally gets released!