Tom Sinclair
January 08, 1999 AT 05:00 AM EST

Even if Kevin Williamson’s name weren’t on the script of the high school alien-parasite thriller The Faculty, you’d still associate it with him. The movie plays like the work of a smart young hack who’d watched the Scream films and Dawson’s Creek and figured that it couldn’t be all that hard to come up with his own crew of nonchalantly downbeat (and overarticulate) teenagers. There’s a playful contradiction at the heart of Williamson’s characters, who speak in an exhibitionistic flurry of pop references in order to assert their rebel identity and soul. They’re desperate to distinguish themselves from the horde, yet all they have to deploy are the styles and attitudes of the infotainment-consumer culture. Their ”individuality” is really the ultimate status symbol.

In The Faculty, the umpteenth update of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a mysterious otherworldly visitor arrives on the campus of rural Ohio’s Herrington High, where it proceeds to take over the teachers (most entertainingly, a discombobulated Jon Stewart) and then infiltrate the student body. Who, among the kids, could be the reigning host? Is it the snarling faux-lesbian punkette (Clea DuVall)? The know-it-all troublemaker (Josh Hartnett) who’s too cool to use his brains in class? The sweetly virginal Southern belle (Laura Harris) who has just arrived from Atlanta? Or the junior Demi Moore look-alike cheerleader (Jordana Brewster) who presides over the eternal school popularity contest as though she were running a military campaign?

If The Faculty were half as witty as Scream, it might have used the notion of a cliquish high school vanguard’s members becoming pods of themselves as a vehicle to satirize the supersubtle role playing of these mall-rat babies. In a strange way, though, the Williamson of Dawson’s Creek is now at odds with Williamson the sophisticated trash joker. He’s become too protective of his characters — too invested in the earnestness of teen angst to portray it in the scathing parodistic terms a hip horror movie demands. It doesn’t help that The Faculty was directed by Robert Rodriguez (From Dusk Till Dawn), a specialist in literal-minded slapstick dementia. Rodriguez stages Williamson’s thriller/soap opera shenanigans as though he were scurrying through a maze he couldn’t wait to reach the end of, and by the second half you see why. The Faculty erupts into an exuberantly random F/X blowout, a vision of young actors sporting wormy tentacles the size of elephant trunks. Some of this is fun in a low-grade Hellraiser sort of way, but it reduces the script’s mildest ambitions to hamburger. In The Faculty, it’s Kevin Williamson’s talent that turns into a pod of itself. C+

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