You know what to expect when super scriptboy Kevin Williamson is on the case. A fair spatter of gore, one or two nail-nibbling suspense sequences, a clutch of pretty, teen faces and a generous serving of wink-to-the-audience tongue-in-cheekiness. But with The Faculty, Williamson's finally decided to shift genres, away from the knackered old slasher pic and into the nerd-baiting universe of science-fiction. The result? Well, with El Mariachi director Robert Rodriguez at the helm, it's fun, it's frantic and you will laugh - but it's so overly derivative that you can't help feeling just a teensy bit cheated.
For a start, the main teen-heroes are simply a '90s version of The Breakfast Club: there's the geeky kid (Elijah Wood), the bitchy cheerleader-type (Jordana Brewster), the cool, establishment-bothering outcast (Josh Hartnett) and the sulky loner girlie (Clea DuVall) who, inevitably, falls for the football-hero jock (Shawn Hatosy). But, rather than being brought together by a detention, they're brought together by an extraterrestrial threat.
As this Invasion Of The Body Snatchers slowly gets going (it takes a good three-quarters of an hour), the audience has no choice but to watch these stereotypes being stamped out: only the anticipation of seeing them attacked by aliens (in the same way that From Dusk Till Dawn was Tarantino Crims attacked by vampires) keeps you going.
Of course, once the body-snatching is fully underway, the knowing sci-fi-reference floodgates are opened. And with lines like "Maybe the X-Files is right", Williamson doesn't let up. The Puppet Masters, Aliens, Independence Day, The Thing... all are either name-checked or aped. There's even a "Who isn't human here?" scene, in which a test is devised to spot the aliens (perversely enough, it involves the compulsory snorting of a caffeine-based drug).
And it's here that The Faculty is at its strongest: an atmosphere of extreme paranoia is created as the kids cotton on to the aliens' scheme, and the aliens cotton on to the fact that the kids have cottoned on. Wood and co run from the police, their parents and even each other, never knowing who to trust as - with their knowledge of sci-fi films and literature to hand - they try figuring out how to save their town and, ultimately, the world from the ETs' cold conformity.
But, by the final act, the line between send-up and rip-off has blurred, and Williamson delivers little more than a silly, Aliens-style Showdown With Monster climax that's reminiscent of Mimic and The Relic. It's a shame that, with the pedigree of Rodriguez and Williamson, it amounts to less than either Scream or From Dusk Till Dawn, offering little new. Still, The Faculty is a hard movie to hate: it never takes itself too seriously, and while it hardly breaks new ground, it's still great lightweight entertainment.
It's The Breakfast Club meets The Thing; Invasion Of The Body Snatchers set in Dawson's Creek. And that's all there is to it. With The Faculty, Kevin Williamson almost does for sci-fi what he did for slasher flicks with Scream. Almost.