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Species II

video review out of 4 Movie Review: Species II

Starring: Natasha Henstridge, James Cromwell
Director: Peter Medak
Rated: R
RunTime: 95 Minutes
Release Date: April 1998
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy

*Also starring: George Dzundza, Marg Helgenberger, Justin Lazard, Michael Madsen, Mykelti Williamson

Review by MrBrown
1 star out of 4

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 ridiculous?

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.

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