Despite its exceedingly well-done visual effects, 1995's original Species
was one big hunk of sci-fi cheese, from the writing to the feeble
performances. So, coming from such B-grade roots, its sequel's stunning
ineptitude is not terribly surprising, yet at the same time it is. It
would not have been difficult at all for the people behind Species II to
top the hokey original, yet they have somehow managed to fabricate
something just as bad, if not even worse.
Something is clearly amiss when the back door left open for a sequel in
Species--a sewer rat becomes not quite of this Earth after eating a body
part from the exploded alien/human hybrid Sil--is never entered into
(perhaps that was left
for Species III--though I'm not giving away anything when I say that this
installment has an open back door of its own). The alien fun and games
begin this time when a three-person astronaut crew returning from Mars
inadvertently carries within their soil samples deadly alien DNA that
eventually infects the mission captain, Patrick Ross (Justin Lazard, late
of CBS's short-lived soap of a few years back, Central Park West/CPW).
This alien DNA is not identical to that which created the original film's
Sil, but it's close enough, and upon arrival on Earth Patrick is mating
like crazy, engaging in bloody sex with just about every woman he can find.
Meanwhile, scientist Dr. Laura Baker (the returning Marg Helgenberger) has
created a clone of Sil named Eve (Natasha Henstridge again) for research
purposes. It doesn't take long for Eve to sense another alien presence,
which send her libido into hyperdrive. It's up to Laura and her former
partner, bounty hunter Press Lennox (Michael Madsen, another returnee); and
Patrick's uninfected shipmate Dennis Gamble (Mykelti Williamson) to find
Patrick before the in-heat Eve does.
"This isn't The X-Files, goddammit!" exclaims one character in the early
going. In terms of quality, he's absolutely right, but he's also wrong.
The new alien first appears as an otherworldly oozing sludge that causes
Patrick's pupils to dilate once he's infected. Looks and sounds an awful
lot like The X-Files's "black cancer" to me. But that's not the only source
director Peter Medak and writer Chris Brancato steal from. Species was
already a ripoff of Alien, but Medak makes the cribbing much more blatant
than the original's director, Roger Donaldson, did. Human Patrick is given
a tongue that also has a tongue within itself, and his alien form more
closely resembles the Alien than Eve's alien body (which ironically was
designed by Alien designer H.R. Giger). A large alien hive that our heros
douse with a substance fired from large guns? Aliens sans flamethrowers.
The visual effects were by far the best thing about Species, and the
sequel's effects crew at Steve Johnson's XFX Inc. keeps that high-quality
tradition alive; no cheap-looking Lost in Space CGI here. After the
effects, the original's best asset was the fresh presence of Henstridge.
However, Medak and Brancato have no idea what exactly to do with her for
this installment. At one point she's called on to play alien "empath" à la
Forest Whitaker in the original, but for most of the duration she's holed
up in a glass cell. By the time the big breakout so prominently featured
in the trailer actually takes place, the film is well into its home stretch.
So the rest of the time we are treated to Patrick, played with little zest
by Lazard. One problem with the first film was that the deadly, horny, but
innocent-at-heart Sil was too sympathetic; no such problem with Patrick, who
comes off as a cocky pretty boy before the alien takes control. The rest
of the cast also fails to add much, but the writing can be faulted for
that. Helgenberger and Madsen go through the motions, but they are already
hampered by the clichéd development that somewhere between the two films,
the once-linked Laura and Press stopped getting along. Williamson suffers
the worst indignity. He tries his best to enliven the token
African-American role, but how can anyone recite insulting, derivative
lines such as "I'm gonna get African on someone's ass" and not appear
But Species II's worst crime is being a thoroughly uninteresting piece of
work. At least the original featured plenty to laugh at--unaccountably
awful performances by the otherwise fine actors Ben Kingsley and Whitaker,
and the sight of Helgenberger's character performing fellatio on Madsen's,
for a start. But the filmmakers do not display any discernable effort at
all, let alone the misguided effort that is required for something to reach
the camp level. For all the blood and gore, nudity, and sex thrown in,
Species II is, quite simply, a vapid bore.