Now I’m sure you all thought it’d be a while before I revisited Mr Robert Rodriguez and his films again. Guess what, you were wrong. And this is the last of his films on my list, so I guess that makes it his best film in my eyes. And it’s the first film of his I’ve seen that doesn’t have Mexico in it. We have a pretty all-star teen cast here for a film that on paper looks like it could be a silly B-movie trainwreck disaster but thanks to the great writing (done by Kevin Williamson I might add), good casting choices and of course stellar direction, we have a pretty cool teen sci-fi flick that isn’t corny at all.
Meet six very different high school students: first of all we have Casey (Elijah “pre-Frodo” Wood) an awkward bumbling nerd who is of course a ripe target for bullies, then we have Delilah (Jordana Brewster) the resident head cheerleader and therefore a Libby Chessler wannabe, Stokely (Clea Duvall) a homely Goth girl who keeps to herself and is a big sci-fi fan, Stan (Shawn Hatosy) the school’s all around athlete who wants to quit the football team and focus on his studies, Zeke (Josh Hartnett) a guy repeating his senior year and is known for selling drugs, porn and other such items to students, and finally Marybeth Louise Hutchinson (Laura Harris) who is a new student from Atlanta. In this specific week, each of these students notice that their teachers have been acting especially strangely – the aggressive and hardass Coach (Robert Patrick) is suddenly quiet and approachable, the weedy and awkward Miss Burke (Famke Janssen) now has an attitude and one of the older teachers sort of melts in the showers. They come to the conclusion that some kind of aliens have come in and started taking over the school, moving onto the students themselves next. Soon it’s only these six unlikely teens who are left to figure out what to do about the aliens.
Now in addition to those actors mentioned above we have even more veterans in our cast such as Piper Laurie playing Mrs Olson, Chris MacDonald playing Casey’s father, Salma Hayek as the school nurse (not the “hello nurse” type though) and Usher Raymond as the jock who’s actually a dick. Our six leading teens work really well together and it’s cool to see them pair off and interact differently. I’d have to say Stan was one of my favourite characters since he’s the rarest of species in film – an athlete who isn’t a sociopath – and he’s pretty likeable. Josh Hartnett is also hilarious as Zeke in only his second role believe it or not. Jordana Brewster and Clea Duvall have some of the best character interactions since Delilah and Stokes don’t like each other one bit. Take this little exchange for example:
Delilah: “Anyway, miss lesbian, when did you start liking boys?”
Stokely: “Fuck you, tit-bags”
Apparently Charisma Carpenter was up for the role of Delilah but turned it down. Too bad but I guess it would have been too much like our beloved Cordy. Famke Janssen also delivers one of the best movie insults I’ve ever heard:
“If I catch you peddling your little wonder dust at school again, I’m gonna shove my foot so far up your ass you’ll be sucking my toes till graduation”
This film works really well as a modern take on the Invasion of the Body Snatchers story and it’s written in the same style as Scream in that the characters are aware how ridiculous the situation is and don’t hesitate to point it out. But I’m glad that this film didn’t become a proper parody as that would have really ruined it. Instead it gets serious when it’s supposed to and you get the comedy in the lines before that. I don’t really know a lot of writers but I have to say I am a fan of Kevin Williamson since three of the films he’s written scripts for have made it onto my list though I never watched Dawson’s Creek. And it’s cool how each of the six characters are written in a way that they appear clichéd but that’s immediately turned around such as Zeke actually being a science genius, Casey becoming the de-facto leader, Stokely secretly crushing on Stan, Stan’s aforementioned desire for intelligence, Delilah not having a good home life and Marybeth having a bit of a wild side.
Probably my favourite scene comes when they are all at Zeke’s house and they’ve figured out that Zeke’s homemade drug (that he calls “scat”) is lethal to the aliens. Guess what they have to do make sure none of them is really an alien? They all have to get high and it’s probably one of the most hilarious scenes I’ve ever seen. One bit I love is where Delilah and Marybeth are sniping at each other and Zeke (having already taken his hit) suddenly bursts out laughing saying “is she always this much fun man” and Stan (also high) says “nah, sometimes she can be a real bitch”. Casey’s whole performance during that scene is pure gold, you know since you’re not used to seeing a nerd on drugs.
I also love the bit where they kidnap the principal (thinking she’s the queen alien) and tie her up in a volleyball net, and she just snaps out “you’re all expelled!” as though she thinks that’ll actually do something. Another good one is the part where the six first come together in the science lab and are attacked by the science teacher. It takes special talent to write stuff like that. But go ahead and see for yourself.
So that’s my final visit to Mr Rodriguez but I will be seeing Mr Williamson again and I’m sure the majority of readers can guess which film it is. Right here we have Dawson’s Creek meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers in the modern day with a lot of self-referential stuff and witty one-liners. As I said in the introduction, on paper it seems like it wouldn’t work and could end up as a big mess (see Night of the Lepus for example) but it succeeds thanks to its all star cast, great writing and stellar direction. It also has a pretty cool soundtrack and any film that ends with an Oasis song is a win in my book (this time it’s the lesser known “Stay Young” from the Masterplan album). Take care, keep watching the skies and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter.