Species II

WFTB Score: 5/20

The plot: Returning from a mission to Mars, American hero Patrick Ross undergoes a transformation, giving him strong sexual urges which have a deadly outcome and an unusual side-effect. When the US Army realise what they’re dealing with, they turn to the experts: Preston Lennox and Laura Baker, who now has an unlikely friend in Eve, a clone of the alien hybrid Sil who she previously helped to kill. However, there’s no guarantee that the humans will be able to control alien passions when male and female meet.

It’s been a successful mission for the crew of the Excursion: Dennis Gamble (Mykelti Williamson), Anne Sampas (Myriam Cyr) and Patrick Ross (Justin Lazard), son of ambitious Senator Judson Ross (James Cromwell). On the way back from Mars with a soil sample in storage, something leaks out and the crew lose touch with Mission Control for seven minutes, but they eventually come home to heroes’ welcomes. Patrick’s first sexual encounter back on Earth ends in grisly fashion when half-alien children burst from the women (!) he encounters, causing Patrick to panic and take the boys to a family farmhouse.

Getting wind that something nasty is afoot, Colonel Burgess (George Dzundza) calls in experienced hard man Preston Lennox (Michael Madsen) and reacquaints him with Dr Laura Baker (Marg Helgenberger), who has been working on combating the alien threat by experimenting on Eve (Natasha Henstridge), a clone of previously-dispatched half-alien Sil. Eve has been kept away from men to suppress her sexual desires, but as she becomes aware of Patrick’s presence, her need to mate with him becomes unstoppable. Accompanied by Gamble, Lennox follows a familiar trail of devastation in an effort to hunt down and neutralise Ross; for woe betide the human race if Eve and Patrick meet up and get it on.

My review of the original Species mentioned that it was a mash-up of any number of other, better movies, but didn’t name Terminator as a specific inspiration. I can’t resist it now, however, because the fundamental plot device driving Species II – the monster becoming the protector – is an unmistakeable borrow, and that’s to put it kindly. It’s only to be expected since, like the Terminator movies, the chief draw of Species was undoubtedly Natasha Henstridge’s baddie, conveniently resurrected as Eve using a cloned embryo (to be fair, frozen embryos were mentioned in Species and the filmmakers were wise enough to ignore the original’s dozy ending). And in some respects, Species II goes further than its predecessor: the gore is definitely dialled up a notch, with bellies bursting in properly nasty fashion; the opening in space doesn’t show too many signs of a small budget; and there are more breasts on show, though Henstridge evidently felt that the best (hers) should be saved until last. Best of all, Chris Brancato’s script* exhibits hints of a sense of humour, with cheeky product placement adorning the Excursion and Patrick’s endorsement (or not!) of Space Flakes cereal.

Unfortunately, Brancato and director Peter Medak probably wouldn’t want you to laugh at the funniest bit of Species II, namely the preposterous appearance of young boys in oversize grey t-shirts and their storage in a barn in the middle of nowhere. This single, unutterably daft idea effectively kills the film’s drama stone dead – it’s not as if they’re even the main thrust of the plot, since they’re eventually fumigated without much fuss – and encourages the viewer to look for other flaws, such as the ultra-convenient telepathy which allows Eve to locate Patrick in a supermarket (buying more kids’ t-shirts?), or Gamble’s dismally stereotyped horny black guy attitude (I’m not sure if ‘blackitude’ is either an accepted or acceptable term, so I won’t go there), which Williamson unsurprisingly delivers with no conviction at all. Also, while some of the alien effects are pretty good, the puppetry of others is pretty obvious, and there’s inevitably a bit of dated CGI too.

Silliness aside, Species II is undone by the needless complexity of its plot. The expository mission to Mars takes up too much time, whilst James Cromwell’s pushy politician father adds nothing (is there meant to be a nod to the Kennedys?) and the asylum inmate who knows about the dangers of Mars is a waste of space, other than to fill in backstory we weren’t bothered about in the first place (the aliens killed off life on the Red Planet, apparently). These half-developed stabs at depth stand in stark contrast to Species, whose derivative but simple monster-hunt worked well enough, terrible dialogue and Forest Whitaker’s hat notwithstanding.

As for the acting, while Williamson’s uncomfortable posing is no comparison for Whitaker’s gentle empathy, and Lazard is a handsome blank, the returning cast members are decent enough: Helgenberger is earnest, while Madsen’s cool appears to be effortless and Natasha Henstridge copes adequately with being tasked to act more than she is asked to undress. Honorable mentions should go to Dzundza for his belligerent Colonel, and Cromwell who probably knows he’s in rubbish but still acts like he’s in The West Wing.

Species II will undoubtedly disappoint fans of the original hoping for a straight repeat of the monster-hunt formula or lots more of Henstridge in the buff; yet while it’s essentially straight-to-video fare given a high profile by the success of the first film, this isn’t the worst sci-fi/action sequel I’ve seen by a long chalk (don’t pretend you’re not there, Highlander II). It might have got away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for those pesky kids.

NOTES: There’s also something of an in-joke about the X-Files, Brancato having written an episode called Eve. Coincidence? Don’t know, don’t care.

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