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‘Species’ (R)

By Joe Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 07, 1995

THE SPECIOUS "Species" is a scary/stupid summer fright flick with a really high Eeew! quotient. A shameless "Alien" rip-off (it even uses a similar typeface in its ads), it makes no sense whatsoever. But don't hold the movie's utter unoriginality and brainlessness against it. A few laughs, a few popcorn-jolting scares—what more do you want on a hot summer night?

"Species" starts with a neat sci-fi premise: Using a radio telescope, scientists have been transmitting a map of human DNA code, among other information, out to the galaxies in hopes of contacting intelligent life. Well, some aliens picked up the code and kindly sent it back, along with instructions on how to mix our genes with their own.

Led by cranky Xavier Fitch (Ben Kingsley), the scientists get right to work cloning the combined genes, growing an adorable (and remarkably fast-growing) little blond girl called "Sil"—who for some reason is being gassed with cyanide by the scientists when we first see her. But Sil smashes out of her glass cage and stows away on a train for Los Angeles, leaving a trail of mangled bodies and starting a national search-and-destroy alien-hunt.

Turns out Sil's "inner child" is a disgustingly icky and malevolent creature that zips through its life cycle, like a really nasty virus. Quicker than you can hum "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon," the train arrives in L.A., and Sil is all grown up. And she wants to make babies. Now.

A quick study, the remorselessly murderous Sil picks up everything she knows about sex, violence and shopping from a few minutes with motel-room cable TV. (Her French-kiss scene with a would-be date-rapist is a monster-movie classic.) And she shows good taste in mates, aiming for studly Michael Madsen (you remember him as the psycho who sliced the cop's ear off in "Reservoir Dogs"), who is part of the Sil-SWAT team that's out to get her. But like most of us, she'll take what she can get.

The monster Sil was designed by cyber-psycho Swiss artist H.R. Giger, who created the original biomechanical monster and sets for the three "Alien" films, and once again, he's made a hideously mutating, gooey, gory, swift and slippery crowd-pleasing predator.

Natasha Henstridge plays the hilariously blank blond babe who harbors the creature. She looks—and acts—like a genetic hybrid of Kim Basinger, Pia Zadora and Traci Lords, so no one even notices her walking around L.A. in a bridesmaid's gown (except when her skin bubbles and ruptures, heralding another appearance of the Bad Girl).

The slumming cast also includes Forest Whitaker, amusing as a sweet-natured psychic who can tell what the monster (and everyone on the Sil-hunting squad) is thinking. Oscar-owner Kingsley's entire job is to make you hate him, just so you can cheer when he inevitably gets trashed by the creature he helped create.

Director Roger Donaldson knows his bad-movie conventions (he's responsible for Tom Cruise in "Cocktail" and Alec-n-Kim in "The Getaway" redux) and he calls on all of them.

In this sort of intentionally psychotronic stuff, characters enjoy stating the obvious. They'll step over a monster-mutilated corpse and say, straight-faced, "Something bad happened here." Or walk through a recently shredded metal door and say, "I think she went through here." Unfortunately, Donaldson rushes the ending—it looks like he was running out of money or something—so the climactic confrontations and destroy-all-monster sequences aren't nearly drawn-out and satisfying enough.

My personal favorite moment in "Species": A hapless train conductor sees an enormous seething, oozing monstrosity on the wall of a compartment, yet, despite loud advice to the contrary from the audience, she still WALKS RIGHT TOWARD IT!

Yup. Just the thing for a summer night. If only there was a drive-in around here.

SPECIES (R) — Contains icky violence, utterly gratuitous nudity and the inevitability of a sequel.

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