Friday, May 20, 2016

SPECIES (1995) - **


Rated R for sci-fi violence, strong sexuality and some language
Running time: 108 minutes
Release date: July 7, 1995


Species opens up with the narration that the government sent messages to outer space in the hopes of reaching intelligent life somewhere in the galaxy. This started in the 1970's; in 1993, SETI (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) received a response in the form of a formula that creates an endless fuel source. So these scientists locked away in their underground secret laboratories are excited to think that alien life is benevolent. Then they receive a message that contains a code for a DNA string that can be spliced with human DNA to create a human-alien hybrid. Oh great, so now we can create a race of benevolent humanoids, right? Well, then, why is this little girl being gassed in the opening five minutes of the film? The movie will answer that question rather soon enough.

Ben Kingsley stars as Dr. Fitch, a government scientist who has been leading the human/alien experiment. We see him shed a tear as he tells the little girl (Michelle Williams) that he's sorry he's trying to kill her. However, he's even sorrier once she breaks free from her cell and quickly disappears from the facility, being hunted down by all sorts of soldiers and helicopters and tanks. The girl ends up on a train, where she kills a vagrant with her own superhuman strength, in a sign of things to come. Dr. Fitch assembles the usual gang of scientists, tough guys and head cases to try and track her down, in hopes of terminating the experiment before it wreaks more havoc. It has to be kept quiet, though, lest there be questions they don't have answers to.

The crew is compiled of Press (Michael Madsen), who is the tough guy mercenary who states that he only gets called in when things get out of control. Forest Whitaker is Dan, an empath, or in layman's terms, a guy who can sense what the girl/alien is thinking/feeling. Alfred Molina is Dr. Arden, an anthropologist and Marg Helgenberger is Dr. Baker, a molecular biologist. The screenplay does not provide these characters with much depth; in fact, you could say that they are your stock characters for this type of film. Whitaker's empath is the most interesting of the bunch, but he also gets some of the worst dialogue in the film. Madsen and Helgenberger try and make the most of what they are provided until the inevitable scene where they end up having sex. Kingsley, himself, is dignified throughout the movie, but there isn't really much to work with here.

The girl, named Sil (now played by Natasha Henstridge), eventually boards a passenger train, eats pudding cups like there's no tomorrow, morphs into a beautiful, leggy blonde and kills the train conductor, stealing her credit card. Eventually, she winds up in Los Angeles, which is where all wide-eyed foreigners end up. She buys some clothes, gets a motel room, and asks the clerk where she can find a man. The guy points her in the direction of a night club, where she can have her pick of any guy there. Meanwhile, the tracking team have caught up with her in LA, and have somehow determined that she desires a mate. The potential danger of this situation has gone up a notch, as the idea of her mating and having children leads the team to realize that the whole point of the alien messages from space was to send something to Earth to eradicate them all. Once again, aliens deem mankind a threat to their existence, in one of cinemas more tired clichés

Sil meets several guys and immediately throws herself at them, and why should any guy decline that? In one scene, Sil seems to sense there is something off with one of her prey and demands to be taken back to the club. However, the guy doesn't take rejection easily and is disposed of. Another guy gets her in his hot tub but she moves a little too fast for him, especially when she tells him that she wants a baby. Not the words a guy wants to hear on a first date. The team tracks her down, and she finds a somewhat convoluted way to throw them off her scent. The team think she's dead and wind down for the night, thinking that their job is done. This is when we find out the purpose of Alfred Molina's character. The anthropologist previously had just been standing around, watching everyone else do their thing. The movie's final scenes come down to the requisite underground chase, as you probably had predicted when you started watching.

Director Roger Donaldson has crafted a film that rates rather decently on the technical scale, but is rather paper thin everywhere else. Screenwriter Dennis Feldman has filled the plot with predictable twists and turns and poorly drawn characters. The dialogue is silly and laughable at more than a few points. The cast is a decent assortment of actors and actresses who have all seen better films and had more to work with, but as mentioned, Forest Whitaker's performance was the stand-out. The empath character is one that could have spun off into it's own film and possibly have been successful. However, the script betrayed the character with some bad lines. Natasha Henstridge as Sil is easy on the eyes; her topless scenes here weren't necessarily gratuitous, as her character was trying to get pregnant, so the shedding of clothes may be required for that; this was her feature debut, and although a little wooden at times, she played an alien, so that can be forgiven. Alfred Molina's character was the weakest of the bunch and his character's fate was inevitable at some point.

In the end, Species is your paint-by-numbers B-movie sci-fi plot with some good visual effects and a few moments of intelligence, but those moments are few and far between and eventually drowned out by the vapid dialogue. In one scene, there is a dead guy lying on the floor and one character summarizes the situation by saying "She must have come through here."

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