Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Sexuality, Sci-Fi Violence/Gore and Language
Directed by: Peter Medak
Written by: Chris Brancato
Starring: Natasha Henstridge, Michael Madsen, Marg Helgenberger, James Cromwell, Mykelti Williamson, Richard Belzer & Justin Lazard
Even though it was a rather mediocre mess of a film, 1995’s SPECIES made enough cash to warrant a sequel. Three years after that original film became an unexpected hit, SPECIES II was pumped out. Screenwriter Chris Brancato attempted to take the series down a new-ish path and director Peter Medak had already made one of the most underrated 90s thrillers (ROMEO IS BLEEDING), but neither of them succeeded much in this crappy second installment of a franchise that didn’t need to exist. Despite good-looking gore and a few neat ideas, SPECIES II is a bad and boring sequel.
Set three years after the events of SPECIES, this sequel opens with a manned mission to Mars and black goo leaking out onto the spaceship. When the astronauts return home, one of them is contaminated with alien DNA. When astronaut-turned-mutant Patrick Ross (Justin Lazard) begins sleeping with women and those women begin to explode with rapidly-growing offspring, it becomes clear that his mating is a threat to the human race. In order to stop him, Press Lennox (Michael Madsen) and Laura Baker (Marg Helgenberger) are forced to team up to take him down. Their secret weapon is Eve (Natasha Henstridge), a cloned “nice” version of Sil from the first film…but her loyalty begins to waver when she goes into heat over Ross.
Only three performances stuck out in the first SPECIES: Michael Madsen, Marg Helgenberger, and Natasha Henstridge. Only one of those performers is remotely entertaining this time around: Madsen! Though Madsen mostly seems bored and has gone on to refer to this film as “a crock of shit,” he gets a couple of humorously cheesy bits that are unintentionally funny. The best moment has him tripping over and then threatening a grocery store clerk (at gunpoint) over the location of a cereal aisle. I can’t help but think this was improvised because Madsen actually stumbled and just didn’t want to do another take.
As the head scientist and caretaker of Eve, Marg Helgenberger is dull this time around and almost seems to be playing an entirely different character. As the much nicer half-human/half-alien clone Eve, Natasha Henstridge is rather boring in her role. She mainly sits in a glass cage, occasionally has psychic visions and really doesn’t get much to do until the final 20 minutes. Peter Boyle (Frank from EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND) is also in this trash, for some reason, as a crazy former scientist who hams it up in two scenes. James Cromwell also seems to be delivering the only competent performance as a stern Senator. It’s almost like Cromwell thought he was in another movie. Justin Lazard is okay enough as the sex-starved villain, while Mykelti Williamson is annoying as a token black guy sidekick to Madsen.
As far as effects go, SPECIES II has marginally better CGI than the first film. There are cheesy bits, but the story tried to utilize these effects in ways that looked neat. One gore gag that has an exploded head rebuilding itself looks dated, but remains cool as spectacle. Eve’s Giger-inspired alien design is lacking to say the least, though I appreciate that they mostly used practical effects for her. She’s looks like a more generic version of Sil, but the alien version of Patrick Ross is pretty damned awesome. Seriously, this tentacled Lovecraftian beastie looks like it belongs in a far better film and was instead wasted on this junk.
SPECIES II’s biggest problem is that it’s boring to sit through and there isn’t much fun to be had. I appreciate that this sequel attempted to put a gender-reversal on the first film and has a few neat ideas (borrowing from Roger Corman’s HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP in the process). However, it just seems like this movie was doomed to play on the early morning hours of the Syfy Channel from its creation. On the redeeming side of things, the gore effects are cool and a couple of performances are watchable. Suffering from the problem that plagues many sequels though, SPECIES II is a significant step down from its predecessor. In this case, that predecessor wasn’t very good from the start…so this second go-round is crap!