Film (1998). Dimension Films presents a Los Hooligans production. Directed by Robert Rodriguez. Written by Bruce Kimmel, David Wechter and Kevin Williamson. Cast includes Jordana Brewster, Clea DuVall, Laura Harris, Josh Hartnett, Shawn Hatosy, Piper Laurie, Bebe Neuwirth, Robert Patrick and Elijah Wood. 104 minutes. Colour.
Students foil an Invasion of cephalopod-specific parasites centred on their high school faculty in contemporary Ohio. The Aliens first co-opt football coach Joe Willis (Patrick), drama teacher Karen Olsen (Laurie) and school principal Valerie Drake (Neuwrith) as hosts for mesozoan forms transmitted via Parasitism and Symbiosis, before moving on to other members of staff and then to students including head cheerleader Delilah Profitt (Brewster) and self-styled "goth" outcast Stokley Mitchell (DuVall).
Director Robert Rodriguez hurls a slurry of knowing references to Monster Movies and other Horror in SF classics including Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and John Carpenter's The Thing (1982), largely via an entertaining array of visual quotations and special effects. Rodriguez and script doctor Kevin Williamson – brought in by producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein to commercialize the original screenplay by Bruce Kimmel and David Wechter – even find time for an amusingly metatextual SF in the Classroom discussion of how Jack Finney ripped off The Puppet Masters (1951) by Robert Heinlein to write The Body Snatchers (10-24 December 1954 Collier's Weekly; 1955; vt Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1973; rev 1978). Heinlein's Hugo-winning novel Double Star (1956) also gets a name-check.
The coded Social Darwinism of American high school life and the Clichés of Genre SF combine to droll effect but the Satire is undermined by an epilogue in which Drug-dealing recalcitrant Zeke Tyler (Hartnett) – "Just doing my part in the deconstruction of America" – follows the well-trodden Hollywood arc of conformity-after-rebellion by becoming school quarterback. Just as "cool kid" Tyler proves himself a Scientist capable of cooking up the diuretic necessary to identify and destroy the water-borne invaders, "jock" Stan Rosado (Hatosy) discloses a desire for academic rather than sporting achievement and "nerd" Casey Connor (Wood) a taste for physical violence. The film is messy and playful and understands both its sources and its audience. "It's science fiction," says goth-girl Mitchell to nerd Connor. "Exactly," he replies. "Everybody gets hung up on the science part, which has nothing to do with it. They're getting at us through the fiction."
A denouement in the school swimming pool reveals newly-arrived Southern belle student Marybeth Hutchinson (Harris) to be queen of the aliens from a dying world intent on Xenoforming the Earth: "This is where your land of fiction gets it right: we win. End of story!" Not quite. American high school life is about being afraid and so is the human condition. Director Rodriguez went on to a profitable career at the water margins of sf and genre Cinema. [MD]
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