Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 48 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Sci-Fi Violence, Strong Sexuality and some Language
Directed by: Roger Donaldson
Written by: Dennis Feldman
Starring: Natasha Henstridge, Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Alfred Molina, Forest Whitaker & Marg Helgenberger
H.R. Giger has become known for his trippy illustrations and creatively horrific designs. He’s most famous for creating the Xenomorph in ALIEN, but he’s also made other contributions to cinema…like the antagonist in SPECIES. This science-fiction/horror blend is about as generic as generic can be. SPECIES is what happens when a subpar creature feature is mixed with a softcore porno, and there’s barely an original bone in its Giger-designed body.
After scientists send out signals to outer space and receive a reply, they decide it might be a good idea to cook up a science experiment with DNA codes that “friendly” aliens have given them. The result of this experiment is Sil, a human/alien hybrid that rapidly matures over the course of mere months. When something deadly appears to be manifesting itself inside of Sil, head scientist Xavier Fitch (Ben Kingsley) decides that its time to terminate their pet. Unfortunately for them, Sil escapes and evolves into a sexy adult version of herself (Natasha Henstridge) who’s ready to mate. If they wish to save the world, Xavier and a special team of hunters must exterminate Sil before she gets her rocks off and gets pregnant.
Many cast members seem embarrassed to be starring in this film and that comes across in their performances. Ben Kingsley (who was in SCHINDLER’S LIST two years prior to this mediocre mess) seems in a rush to say his lines and leave the set. There’s not one ounce of believable emotion injected into his performance, even when he’s trying to look sad or scared. Alfred Molina plays a nerd stereotype (with a godawful haircut) and comes off as borderline creepy. Meanwhile, Forest Whittaker is a useless psychic who can feel other people’s emotions (kind of like Mantis in the recent GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: VOL. 2). This leads to a few laughs, but not many profound insights. In the end, he’s a totally useless character.
Only three people seem to be having fun with the cheesy material: Michael Madsen, Marg Helgenberger, and Natasha Henstridge. Madsen is typecast as a tough guy (what a shock) and manages to inject his rough-around-the-edges charm into this clichéd one-note “hunter.” Helgenberger is solid as a scientist who contributes exposition about Sil’s biology and serves a love-interest for Madsen. Dare I say, the two of them have believable enough chemistry to seem charming together. They also serve as the only two potential victims who are worth giving a shit about.
The real show-stopper is the sexy model-turned-actress Natasha Henstridge. I wasn’t expecting much from her performance, but she did a damn good job with the cheesy material. Henstridge’s acting abilities and unexpectedly clever writing make Sil into a bit of a sympathetic antagonist. It’s a little sad to watch her naively make her way through the outside world, but it’s fun when she snaps into full-blown predator mode and begins taking people out. One scumbag’s death scene is pretty damn cool, even if it seems like the sexier version of an ALIEN kill.
Speaking of which, the creature design for SPECIES is not one of Giger’s shining moments. I appreciate that there are freaky things about this monster, like spikes that come out of her back (when she’s aroused), a cocoon (that eats an unfortunate passerby), and her reptilian-succubus appearance. However, the CGI used to bring this character to life is scattershot to say the least. The film takes a less-is-more approach for its first half, resulting in the practical version of the creature looking neat and the computer-generated version looking like total garbage. Also, it certainly doesn’t help that the monstrous version of Sil sounds like Stripe from GREMLINS.
SPECIES loves to shoe-horn in pointless nudity and erotic sex scenes. Yes, the film revolves around a group of people trying to take down a monster before she’s able to mate…but that doesn’t mean that we need to see Natasha Henstridge’s boobs every five minutes. There are scenes that seem like they exist only to cram more sex and skin into the film. Movie sex for the sake of sex isn’t sexy if there’s no emotional appeal to both characters. Sil is on a quest for a baby, but the men she’s making out with are merely lambs to the slaughter. I wouldn’t be surprised if SPECIES started off as a Skinemax script and then someone tweaked it into a sci-fi/horror film for the big screen.
SPECIES is one of those films that banked in the 90s, but seems laughably silly and mediocre now. It’s a hodge-podge of science-gone-wrong plot points and creature feature clichés. There are redeemable qualities in three performances and attempts to make the alien seductress into a sympathetic character. However, the film mainly languishes away in territory that ranges from mediocre to full-blown bad. SPECIES is a mess.