WFTB Score: 7/20
The plot: The US government’s experiments with extra-terrestrial life take a disastrous turn when a half-human, half-alien girl called Sil escapes from confinement and, maturing with alarming speed, goes in search of a mate. Laboratory chief Xavier Fitch assembles a team to find and eliminate Sil, but she stays a step ahead of them all the way as she looks for a suitable dad in Los Angeles.
Losing track of a young girl can be a cause for concern, but when the young girl is the phenomenally athletic Sil (Michelle Williams), it’s a matter of national security. Government lab head Xavier Fitch (Ben Kingsley) gathers a crack team – anthropologist Stephen Arden (Alfred Molina), biologist Laura Baker (Marg Helgenberger), hard-bitten trouble-shooter Preston Lennox (Michael Madsen) and intuitive empath Dan Smithson (Forest Whitaker) – and explains why it’s so important to catch up with Sil; she is the half-human, half-alien result of a genetic experiment conducted following contact with extra-terrestrials. Sil (as an adult, Natasha Henstridge) is maturing incredibly quickly, so even though the team discover what the alien part of her is capable of, they don’t know what she looks like – though a trail of death and destruction all the way to Los Angeles shows them where she’s been. Sil has a killer combination of beauty and brains, helping her to attract any number of victims would-be mates at the same time as she outwits her trackers. On the other hand, since there are plenty of men looking for her, why not let one of them be the father of the child she so badly desires?
The makers of Species have been very considerate by making the plot of their movie its own review: sexy Alien hybrid. To be precise, Species is a cross between a scary Splash! and a sexy Alien that makes for exactly as dumb a movie as that sounds. The script is compiled from dozens of better films’ lesser moments, so is unsurprisingly full of plot holes and character inconsistencies: Arden knows Sil is a sexual predator but doesn’t recognise the woman that jumps on him ‘cos she’s a brunette? Fitch accepts that Sil’s dead because of a thumb? Aliens send us the answer to the world’s energy problems and that’s tossed away in half a sentence? (I’m no scriptwriter, but having mentioned that little gem in passing, I might work it into my resolution somewhere).
Worse than that, Dennis Feldman’s words are just so lousy, barely a minute passing without someone drivelling something clunky and inane from their mouths; listen out for Lennox’ witty pre-mortem one-liner, or Laura’s closing line which, for my money, competes with Congo and Showgirls for worst last line ever (the anti-Casablanca Award, if you will). Forest Whitaker’s softly-spoken Dan is particularly badly served, used like a semi-psychic bloodhound any time the plot needs advancing and lumbered with abysmal dialogue while doing it: ‘Something bad happened here’, he says intuitively whilst staring at the mangled corpse of a train conductor, Madsen’s acid reply offering scant compensation. And don’t even get me started on his silly little hat*.
Rest assured, then, that there’s nothing whatsoever in Species that you won’t have seen before; which is not to say that it’s not entertaining. Its lack of subtlety – there’s no ethical discussion or moral agonising – works to its advantage, boiling down to a glossy, occasionally gory monster-hunt with a few scares and intermittent breasts. Natasha Henstridge isn’t going to trouble the Academy voters on this evidence but she looks pretty fine in and out of clothing – which is all she really needs to do – whilst Michael Madsen’s grubby charisma works on Helgenberger and Molina’s inherently nerdy quality serves him well (Whitaker and Kingsley don’t always look convinced by what they’re saying, but who can blame them?). Horror fans will find something to enjoy in the film’s more gruesome moments and plenty to laugh at in the climax featuring Sil’s silly son; and even if the H.R. Giger-designed bits only make you wish you were watching Alien instead, there is something quaint about the then state-of-the-art, now endearingly naff CGI.
I try to resist calling films a guilty pleasure in case it credits them with a self-awareness they don’t possess; and there’s absolutely nothing about Species or Roger Donaldson’s workmanlike direction to suggest it knows how derivative and illogical it is; the pleasure’s not so guilty either, since the film fails to exploit its exciting blueprint of aliens, horror and nudity to the full. All the same, like Timecop or, come to think of it, Splash!, Species is definitely a guilty pleasure, with its nuts-and-bolts plot, dreadful script and attendant moments of unintentional hilarity. It’s the cinematic equivalent of one of Status Quo’s three-chord, no-nonsense boogies: you know it’s awful, but it still makes you smile.
NOTES: This is probably my problem, not the movie’s. See my review of The Truman Show.