Dir: Roger Donaldson, 1995. Starring: B. Kingsley, N. Henstridge, F. Whitaker, A. Molina, M. Helgenberger. Science-Fiction.

Wow, check out this Oscar friendly cast...With a bunch of Oscar nominations and a win for Gandhi, there’s Ben Kingsley. And over there is Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker for his amazing performance as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. Michelle Williams got a nod for Brokeback Mountain and Alfred Molina should have gotten one for Frida (or a number of other high caliber performances). It also has the cinematographer of Terms Of Endearment. Again… wow, this must be a classy film. This must be one of those Merchant Ivory flicks or something. Oh wait, Michael Madsen is in it. Halt the award talk. No, instead everyone is slumming, probably cashing a quick paycheck. It’s a kooky Sci-Fi flick called Species. And though it spawned a few straight to DVD sequels that no one ever saw, it’s actually a very watchable junky B-movie (make that an affectionate C+).

A teenage cutie, Sil (Williams), is raised in a glass bubble and is studied by Xavier Fitch (Kingsley). It turns out she is no ordinary teeny bopper… you see, radio telescopes picked up DNA from space, Fitch and the scientists at the lab combined it with human DNA to create her (choosing to create a female so she would be more docile - oh boy, were they wrong, right?). She grows up fast, they decide to put an end to their experiment and gas her, but she escapes the lab. Like The Terminator this moppet is a fish outta water in our world, but she’s a quick study. Oh, and underneath her beauty she’s actually a slithery spiked creature, a sorta Alien/Predator combo. Luckily for the censors she quickly grows into her adult form, the striking Natasha Henstridge. Although she stops aging, she does manage to get naked a lot.

Kingsley as Fitch seems mostly aghast by the whole affair and puts together a dream team to track her and handle the over-acting. Preston (Madsen) is a government hitman; Laura (Marg Helgenberger) is a scientist, though she comes off more as a cop; and Arden (Molina) is an anthropologist/college professor. Lastly in the gang is Dan, played by Whitaker in his less interesting but still compelling sensitive mode. He is some kinda ESP spiritualist, who can sense people’s feelings; his hunches are usually the only thing that keeps them on the creature’s trail.

The Lady Alien goes on a cross-country killing spree, making it to Los Angeles where, as Molina points out, “Los Angeles is the city of the future, nothing is taboo. Anything goes here.” So she feels right at home. It turns out she is in heat, needing to mate, and her spawn could eventually wipe out all of humanity - or something like that. Finding a mate shouldn’t be hard for this gorgeous creature. Luckily LA is full of creeps in clubs who are willing to take her home, where she can get topless before the Dream Team tracks her. Luckily, one of her alien skills seems to be the ability to vanish one second before they barge in the door, usually interrupting her mating attempts, making for one pissed off, horny alien.

Like Mathilda May as the killing creature in Tobe Hooper’s insane vampire/alien/zombie movie, Lifeforce, half the show here is the nudity of the outrageously perfect looking Henstridge in her film debut. Her facial expressions range from bewildered to flirty, and that’s about it. As an actress her "inner-monologue" seems to be "topless," but in some ways Species was a star-making vehicle for her. She has been working steadily ever since - unfortunately in nothing memorable, mostly just cable TV and straight to video junk. She could use a breakout role to show her…chops.

In a funny twist, Sil does manage to mate, but with Molina’s pasty horndog professor. This leads to a chase through the sewers of LA (no, not as riveting as the chase for Orson Welles at the end of The Third Man). These sewers look more like the caves of the horror flick The Descent; maybe a cheaper set was available to the filmmakers. And Sil does finally give birth and, let's just say, her son is a chip off the old block.

Director Roger Donaldson started his career with a bang back in the late '70s in his native New Zealand with the internationally acclaimed Sleeping Dogs and the even better Smash Palace. He then went big-time doing the Hollywood thing and has had a respectable career with a decent ratio of solid (The Bounty, Thirteen Days, The Bank Job) to mediocre (Dante’s Peak, Cocktail, Cadillac Man). But no matter what the outcome the guy has always been a pro. And Species falls somewhere in that middle tier. It may be exploitation-lite, but it’s solid and entertaining and professionally made. Personally, I find most genre films to be tedious, but I’ve seen Species twice in my life now and that’s about one and a half more times than most of the junk I have tried to sit through.

Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Oct 18, 2010 4:32pm
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