Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel

SPECIES (1995) * 1/2.

Directed by Roger Donaldson. Written by Dennis Feldman. Photography, Andrzej Bartkowiak. Editing, Conrad Buff. Production design, John Muto. Music, Christopher Young. Cast: Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Alfred Molina, Forest Whitaker, Marg Helgenberger, Whip Hubley, Michelle Williams, Natasha Henstridge. An MGM release.110 min. Rated R (monsters, corpses, violence, weird sex).
Scientist Ben Kingsley gathers a team: track and destroy specialist Michael Madsen, "empath" Forest Whitaker, biologist Marg Helgenberger, anthropologist Alfred Molina. In all the jumbo-size scientific mumbo-jumbo thrown about the clearest statement comes from former Marine Madsen: " You created a monster with some kind of formula you got from outer space, it escaped, now you want to hunt it and kill it." Score one for military succintness.

Score another point for the film's opening, a terse, attention-holding puzzle. Sil, a cute girl who looks 12 , is being gassed by cyanide inside a glass cage in a laboratory. She escapes in a baffling, lightning-fast way. Boarding a train she does odd things (some of them the only humor in the movie) then mutates into a horrid creature, a cross between snakes and sausages. For starters she destroys a motherly lady conductor. No points are scored after this.

Artificially engendered Sil transforms herself at will from monster (different each time) to human and back, but seems to have no control over her growth, which is something out of Truly Amazing Comics. As the train arrives in Los Angeles, Sil emerges as a beautiful 21-year old who looks just like the Canadian model, now international cover-girl, Natasha Henstridge (in her film debut).

Sil somehow manages to get lots of greenbacks, to learn rally-class car handling by glancing at a driver, and to divine human ways. Though bemused by life on earth, she also manages to buy a wedding gown, which she wears strikingly on the streets of L.A. with nary a look from passersby. That's Southern California for you.

As the hunt for Sil progresses, we learn that she/it is dying to reproduce and presumably fill the earth with fellow-critters faster than you can say Ebola. What a horrible thought! What a silly thought! What a silly Sil movie!

By all logic Sil ought to keep aging uninterruptedly before our eyes. She does not. In search of a male to impregnate her, she cruises bacchanalian bars, picks up guys and does bad things -- but not before disrobing her first-rate body. He face, though, is lifeless -- but don't blame Ms. Henstridge who in TV interviews is vivacious and expressive.

In a silly subplot, the other looker, Ms. Helgenberger, as Dr. Laura Baker, the biologist ( improbable like all in the cast) hasan affair with Michael Madsen. The men are homely.

In the ensuing adventures, logic keeps getting mauled, inconsistencies grow at alarming rates, stupidities ditto. As ludicrous as any is Forest Whitaker, the "empath" who can sense presences, read minds and feelings and almost everything else. What an asset he could be to political candidates! And what a danger he can be to the gullible who, inspired by Whitaker, might flock to psychics and seers.

The movie is absurd and disorganized; the characters are undeveloped; the acting is poor, except for some talented sewer rats. There is no true edge-of-seat suspense or fear. The gore feels like a joke, along the lines of the slime of 1950s sci-fi horror, but without the old campiness. There are no shocks nothing like the scare-you-to-kingdom-come critter of the original "Alien" (1979). Deja vu (including car and 'copter chases) reigns, save for one novelty: after a successful copulation, during those minutes that in unhealthy days called for a cigarette, a fetus appears and grows and grows.

Director Rogert Donaldson has done much better in New Zealand and the USA. His American pictures include the undervalued "The Bounty," the little seen "Marie" (with Sissy Spacek), his only popular hit, "No Way Out " and so-so items like "Cocktail," "Cadillac Man," and the remake of "The Getaway."

Sci-fi horror fanatics can see "Species" without suffering. Others, especially those who demand a minimum of rationality, can skip it.

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel