SPECIES II (1998)

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!

Grade: D

SPECIES (1995)

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.

Grade: C-

DECEPTION (2008)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 47 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Sexual Content, Language, brief Violence and some Drug Use

Deception poster

Directed by: Marcel Langenegger

Written by: Mark Bomback

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Maggie Q, Lisa Gay Hamilton & Natasha Henstridge

Who knew sex clubs and murder could be so dull? That seems to the overarching theme of this undercooked and oversold thriller that accomplishes nothing other than passing two hours of time in complete boredom. DECEPTION didn’t make nearly enough to break even during its theatrical run and was avoided by many moviegoers (hitting #10 at the box office in its opening weekend). This glossy and hollow flick doesn’t offer much material to begin with, so this is likely to be a fairly short review warning of why not to indulge in DECEPTION.

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Jonathan McQuarry is a shy accountant on the verge of hitting a big new job. One night, he befriends Wyatt Bose, a charismatic lawyer who introduces Jonathan to a wilder side of town (complete with strip clubs and recreational drug use). Wyatt gets Jonathan to become a member of “The List”, an exclusive and anonymous sex club with certain rules. Enjoying this more erotic lifestyle, Jonathan finds himself infatuated with one young woman in particular, known only as “S.” However, not all is as it seems and Wyatt might be deceiving Jonathan which could possibly lead to Jonathan deceiving Wyatt and by the end of the film, everybody is deceiving everybody else and nothing makes much sense.

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The biggest draws to see DECEPTION are featured front and center on the poster. You have an erotic thriller starring Ewan McGregor and Hugh Jackman in a game of mental cat-and-mouse with each other. This could have been awesome if these characters were worth caring about and performances weren’t so lackluster. As Jonathan, Ewan McGregor is embarrassingly bad. McGregor uses a horrible American accent that sounds like he’s doing an impression of Woody Allen and goes so over-the-top with his shyness that it’s embarrassing. Hugh Jackman doesn’t fare much better as the hammy Wyatt. There isn’t a lot of development given to this character and that might “lend” itself to revelations later on, but he’s just not that interesting as a bad guy. Jackman does seem to be putting some effort into his role, but his clichéd villain isn’t worth caring about.

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DECEPTION looks visually slick, but that doesn’t count for much if the story is painfully boring. Running at almost two hours in length, the clichéd script just trudges through a mindless and pointless plot. The twists don’t make a lot of sense and contradict earlier scenes. Characters make a lot of stupid decisions that have no rhyme or reason other than to keep the plot dragging lifelessly on until the end credits. Since little effort was put into carving out solid characters, I can’t exactly say that it betrayed anything developed earlier as they could all naturally be the biggest idiots committed to film (especially, Ewan McGregor’s Jonathan). The entire movie is stupid, but not even on a level that might be fun to laugh at in a “so bad it’s good” way. It’s just plain dumb and tedious to sit through.

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DECEPTION becomes the worst kind of the thriller by not thrilling the viewer onto the edge of their seat and instead lulling them into a near unconscious state. This was a waste of time and money on the part of everyone involved. The dull, ridiculous script insults the audience’s intelligence and squanders the A-list actors. Aside from posting this review, this movie wasted my time…just like it will waste your time, if you bother with it. Your key goal is to not be deceived into thinking there’s a single shred of redeemable quality in this steaming pile of cinematic garbage passing itself off as a smart thriller. Avoid this movie!

Grade: F

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