A propulsive sci-fi actioner genetically engineered from spores of the “Alien” and “Terminator” series, Roger Donaldson’s “Species” provides a gripping if not overly original account of an extraterrestrial species attempting to overwhelm our own. While its sketchy characterizations and downplaying of ideas in favor of conventional plotting may fail to please sophisticated buffs, taut direction and scary visual effects should allow pic to mutate healthily at domestic and foreign B.O. sites.
After explaining that scientists have attempted to reach extraterrestrial intelligences by broadcasting our DNA code to the stars,tale’s ingeniously attention-grabbing opening shows a young girl (Michelle Williams) being gassed to death in a subterranean lab by scientists led by Xavier Fitch (Ben Kingsley).
Why would such an innocent be treated so cruelly? And how does she manage to smash her way out of the death chamber and scamper off into the Utah desert? Answers emerge as it becomes apparent that the fleeing child’s abilities are in fact nonhuman, and Fitch assembles a team to track her down.
The recruited experts include Press (Michael Madsen), a Marine-trained tracker and assassin; Dan (Forest Whitaker), an “empath” who can read thoughts and feelings; Laura (Marg Helgenberger), a molecular biologist; and Arden (Alfred Molina), a Harvard anthropologist.
By the time Fitch explains that Sil, as the creature is known, was engineered from human DNA and a code received from outer space, sent by a race whose motives are found to be suspect, she has wreaked murderous havoc on an Amtrak train and morphed into a strikingly gorgeous blonde (newcomer Natasha Henstridge , a Canadian model).
Since her mission is to reproduce as quickly as possible, Sil is singularly fortunate that Amtrak deposits her in singles-scene L.A. Here, as the culturally challenged mutant adorns herself in a fetchingly mod bridal gown, then sets off for the nearest trendy nightclub, Dennis Feldman’s script introduces elements of comedy and satire that mesh awkwardly, if sometimes amusingly, with the mood of sci-fi menace; thematically, it’s as if “Alien” had met a winking cousin of “Looking for Mr. Goodbar.”
Sex, mayhem and chases thus dominate tale’s final hour, as Fitch’s team scrambles to catch up with Sil, who leaves a trail of hunks in her wake until she manages to get impregnated by seducing one of her pursuers.
That the pic’s climactic set piece more than passingly recalls “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” is only one of many instances where innovation bows to precedent.
Similarly, Kingsley and other lead thesps have only two-dimensional roles to engage them, and H.R. Giger’s designs for Sil’s alien self, while suitably horrific, bear noticeable similarities to his “Alien” prototypes.
Still, thanks to Donaldson’s high-velocity direction, Richard Edlund & Steve Johnson’s lavishly realized effects and the sharp lensing of Andrzej Bartkowiak, pic ends up an effective thrill machine, delivering action and suspense that should engage all viewers apart from those who look to sci-fi for more cerebral and ambitiously speculative satisfactions.