Species

on July 07, 1995 by Christine James
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   "Be Intrigued," the tagline invites. "Be Seduced. Be Warned." Be warned that, although this film looks very exciting in trailer form, as a full-length feature it disappoints on all levels from characterization to suspense to originality. It's essentially "Alien" meets "V" meets "Splash" meets "Playboy's Erotic Fantasies: Forbidden Liaisons," diluted into a diffuse, misdirected bore.
   In 1974, scientists relayed a message to the rest of the galaxy via the world's largest radio telescope. The communication contained information such as our planet's location and population--and our DNA structure. The premise here is that, 20 years later, we receive a reply. The first alien communique, establishing apparently good intentions, provides a formula for an inexhaustible energy resource. The next transmission includes a DNA sequence, with friendly instructions to combine it with our own. A top-secret experiment headed by Xavier Fitch (Ben Kingsley) gives birth to a hybrid named Sil, who appears to be a normal human girl, except for the fact that she grows to adolescence within months. When surveillance reveals Sil might be more dangerous than anticipated, the experiment--and Sil--are to be terminated. But using her previously unexhibited alien power, she escapes. Half-reptilian predator, half-frightened child, she is scared, confused and lethal. Meanwhile, an understandably panicked Fitch hires a team of experts to find and kill Sil. We're on the edge of our seats!
   Settle back in that chair. From there, this thriller deflates as interest and tension dissolve in the goo of shallow, underdeveloped characterizations. Sil quickly metamorphoses into a 20-something supermodel extraterrestrial (Natasha Henstridge) whose sole desire is to breed. This is used as an excuse to keep her undressed for the majority of her scenes. She violently, gorily murders anyone who tries to hit the snooze button on her biological clock, along with a good number of innocent bystanders as well. She pauses a moment to contemplate who she is and why she doesn't belong, then re-sumes her killing sprees and sexcapades.
   "Species" would have been a far more interesting film had the plot focused more on Sil's character and her inner struggle regarding her duality and fears and anger at having been betrayed. These motivations are acknowledged but addressed perfunctorily, as if it's something to get out of the way in order to resume the sex and violence. Michael Madsen is equally one-dimensional in his flimsy role as the cocky but supposedly charming leader of the search-and-destroy team. Forest Whitaker's rendering of an empath who is sometimes helpful but usually states the obvious is at least humorous but still doesn't qualify as fleshed-out. The implied complexity of Kingsley's Fitch is also sorely underwritten. Marg Helgenberger and Alfred Molina are little more than extras.
   The faults of the film are analogous to those of H.R. Giger's design of the Sil monster, which is simply a revamping of his Alien blueprint under the influence of 100 proof testosterone. And the formula goes: unoriginality + T&A = decent boxoffice take + monstrous video rental receipts. With "Species," it's gonna be a Blockbuster night.    Starring Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Marg Helgenberger, Forest Whitaker, Alfred Molina and Natasha Henstridge. Directed by Roger Donaldson. Written by Dennis Feldman. Produced by Frank Mancuso Jr. and Dennis Feldman. An MGM release. SF. Rated R for sci-fi violence, strong sexuality and some language. Running time: 108 min.
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