Review: ‘Species II’

Lightning isn't likely to strike twice with "Species II," a half-baked rehash of the hit 1995 sci-fi shocker about a half-human, half-alien beauty with a murderous urge to mate. An unsavory and unsatisfying blend of dumb plotting, leering lasciviousness and full-bore gore, pic should warp-speed to video shelves after making a minor blip on the B.O. radar screen.

Lightning isn’t likely to strike twice with “Species II,” a half-baked rehash of the hit 1995 sci-fi shocker about a half-human, half-alien beauty with a murderous urge to mate. An unsavory and unsatisfying blend of dumb plotting, leering lasciviousness and full-bore gore, pic should warp-speed to video shelves after making a minor blip on the B.O. radar screen.

In the first pic, Natasha Henstridge played Sil, the product of an ill-advised attempt to commingle alien and human DNA. Now Henstridge is back as another half-breed, Eve, who’s been cooked up in a top-secret government lab to help scientists develop a way to battle other evil extraterrestrials. Marg Helgenberger reprises her role as Dr. Laura Baker, one of the more humane scientists in the breeding program. And Michael Madsen encores as Press Lennox, a freelance assassin who’s once again hired to seek and destroy a killer alien.

This time, Lennox’s target is a male of the species. During the first manned mission to Mars, astronaut Patrick Ross (Justin Lazard) is infected with a strain of the same DNA that figured in the births of Sil and Eve. Once Ross returns to Earth, he’s greeted as a hero by the masses and urged to enter politics by his U.S. senator father (James Cromwell). Unfortunately, Ross finds that, each time he has sexual intercourse with a woman, he instantly impregnates her. And each embryo rapidly develops to the size of a pre-schooler and bursts from the stomach of his or her dying mother.

This develops into a serious problem, since Ross is quite active sexually. Soon, Ross is hiding a dozen or so offspring in a building on a neglected family estate, and the L.A. cops are wondering who’s behind all the female corpses with ruptured stomachs.

Meanwhile, back in the lab, the scientists monitoring Eve note that she’s periodically excited by stimuli they can’t discern. Dr. Laura (the movie character, not the radio show host) figures out that Eve is somehow telepathically connected with Ross, and that each hybrid wants to bring out the other’s alien side — that is, they have an urge to merge. Not surprisingly, Dr. Laura thinks this would be a bad idea. But Len-nox and the military-intelligence contingent led by Col. Burgess (George Dzundza) hope to use Eve to lead them to Ross.

Mykelti Williamson co-stars as Dennis Gamble, a Mars mission astronaut who isn’t infected by the alien DNA. (A third astronaut, played by Myriam Cyr, isn’t so lucky.) After he’s cleared as a murder suspect, Gamble gets to hang out with Lennox and Dr. Laura and offer the occasional wisecrack. During the grand finale, when the heroes interrupt coitus between Eve and Ross, Gamble proves that having a far different sort of blood infection can come in handy when you’re demolishing monsters.

Despite many messy deaths, some fairly impressive special effects and a surprising amount of softcore sexuality, “Species II” fails to generate much excitement. Madsen walks through his performance with all the enthusiasm of someone fulfilling a contractual obligation. Helgenberger is a great deal more lively — at times, too much so — while Williamson tries hard to get laughs with his jive-flavored dialogue.

As Col. Burgess, Dzundza is given props to play with — a glass eye, a nasty scar — instead of a character to play. Henstridge and Lazard are fine physical specimens, but their characters appear far more animated when the actors are replaced by tentacled, animatronic monsters. Cromwell offers a watered-down version of his “L.A. Confidential” performance.

An unbilled Peter Boyle is fleetingly compelling as a scientist who warned the military against a Mars mission, while Richard Belzer is wasted in a pointlessly dead-serious cameo as the U.S. president.

Director Peter Medak (“The Ruling Class,” “Let Him Have It”) goes through the motions with scant regard for credibility, subtlety and character development, perhaps because he found so little of these in Chris Brancato’s screenplay. It’s difficult to judge whether some scenes — particularly those involving the laughably phallic symbolism of Ross’ tentacles — are intentionally funny. One deliberately and effectively funny touch: Promotional signs for Sprint, Lite Beer and other advertisers are plastered on the Mars-bound spacecraft.

Steve Johnson’s state-of-the-art creatures and special makeup effects are worthy of a much better pic. Other tech credits are first-rate, but that’s not nearly enough to camouflage the inherent crumminess of “Species II.” Pic indicates than any followup will involve the product of Ross and Eve’s mating dance. Consider yourself warned.

Species II


A Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer release of an FGM production. Produced by Frank Mancuso Jr. Executive producer, Dennis Feldman. Directed by Peter Medak. Screenplay, Chris Brancato, based on characters created by Dennis Feldman.


Camera (Deluxe color), Matthew F. Leonetti; editor, Richard Nord; music, Edward Shearmur; production designer, Miljen Kreka Kljakovic; art director, Mark Zuelzke; set decorator, Suzette Sheets; costume designer, Richard Bruno; sound (Dolby DTS), Steve Nelson; creatures and special makeup effects, Steve Johnson; original "Species" design, H.R. Giger; visual effects, the Digital Magic Co.; visual effects supervisors, Joseph Grossberg, Ralph Maiers; line producer, Vikki Williams; assistant director, Benjamin Rosenberg; casting, Amanda Mackey Johnson, Cathy Sandrich. Reviewed at AMC Studio 30, Houston, April 11, 1998. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 93 MIN.


Press Lennox - Michael Madsen Eve - Natasha Henstridge Dr. Laura Baker - Marg Helgenberger Dennis Gamble - Mykelti Williamson Col. Carter Burgess Jr. - George Dzundza Sen. Ross - James Cromwell Patrick Ross - Justin Lazard Anne Sampas - Myriam Cyr
With: Sarah Wynter, Baxter Harris, Scott Morgan, Peter Boyle, Richard Belzer.
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