Species II


Species II is one of those movies that the studio was ashamed to screen for critics. This is dumb. True, I can’t imagine that there’s a critic in the world who could find more than one or two kind words for Species II. But since when does a movie about space aliens mating with human females depend on good notices? Memo to MGM: there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Just look what The New York Times wrote in its Saturday editions: “Species II … includes bloody murder, bloody births, exploding heads, partial nudity, shootings, simulated sex, monstrous couplings, profanity, foul language and bad parenting on the part of a U.S. senator.”

Now that’s the kind of press that sells tickets to the tits-and-aliens crowd. Hell, it got me into the theater. Typically, I enjoy a bad horror film a lot more than I enjoy, say, a bad romantic comedy. And after burning my fingers on the hot buttered schmaltz of City of Angels, I figured a major-studio B-movie might just salve the wound. But it seems that while any old hack can use the resources of an MGM to turn out a bad alien sex film (Species), it takes a veteran like director Peter Medak (The Krays) to make a boring one (Species II).

Patchwork special effects, indifferent performances, a tin ear for dialogue, and an overreliance on computer-animated effects work all conspire to make 95 minutes of this snail’s-pace sequel seem like a whole lot more. The storyline, by Hoodlum scripter Chris Brancato, is just so much interchangeable piffle about alien DNA in the Martian soil that infects some American astronauts on their way home from the angry red planet. When the weary travelers arrive home, their doctor cautions them not to have sex for 10 days. Since the aliens reproduce by mating with humans — killing the woman involved in the process — our space travelers are walking time bombs.

Attractive astronaut Patrick Ross (Justin Lazard) can’t keep it in his pants, and quickly beds — and thus dispatches — a comely young thing and her sister. In an intriguing subplot, Patrick drives around the greater Washington, D.C. metro area, impregnating hookers and then collecting the children who burst from their wombs in a shack out in the country. The eerie all-in-the-family brood he collects is never allowed to metamorphose into adult form, but the suggestion is vaguely creepy just the same. Naturally, nothing comes of it.

Meanwhile, we’ve learned that the beautiful Sil (Natasha Henstridge), the pesky alien/human hybrid from the first movie, has been cloned and now resides under glass in a government research facility where scientist Laura Baker (Marg Helgenberger, from the first film) is performing cruel experiments on her. Michael Madsen reprises his role from Species as a grunting specialist called in to help deal with the crisis. The whole mess culminates in an unappealing mishmash of cgi, model work, and uninspired derring-do as the good guys face the aliens with little insect-repellent spray-cans straight out of Ghostbusters. James Cromwell, who was dynamite in both Babe and L.A. Confidential, is stranded in the role of Ross’s once-proud papa, a U.S. senator.

You really have to feel sorry for Madsen and Helgenberger, Species veterans who join Natasha Henstridge as two-time losers. Madsen doesn’t look like he gives a shit, which may be his way of staying in character, but Helgenberger is earnest to a fault in a role that doesn’t deserve earnest. Henstridge, meanwhile, has nothing to do for the movie’s first 85 or so minutes except stand around looking pretty and sad because her chaperones won’t let her out to play. Once she leaps out of her glass cage, she’s given just enough screen time to get shot to death, take her shirt off, and get screwed by an alien sex fiend — in exactly that order. Henstridge is a beauty, but a distinctly passive beauty — she was more striking in the original, when you could interpret her brazen sexual aggressor as a reflection on some of the gorgeously vacuous natives of Los Angeles County, a much more satisfactory backdrop for this kind of story.

In reviewing Species, I noted disapprovingly that the real horror depicted in that movie seemed to be the female body in all its breast-baring reproductive glory. If Species was a little paranoid on the subject of women’s biology, then Species II must be a misogynist’s delight. A gratuitous rape scene is just a set-up for a dumb joke. And while the better science-fiction concepts seem to be borrowed from the superior Alien series, these alien offspring never take male hosts. The result is a lot of bloody, naked female corpses. In a better movie, all this sex-and-death imagery might have been a little disturbing, but it just makes Species II seem as distasteful as it is dopey.

Directed by Peter Medak
Written by Chris Brancato
Starring Michael Madsen, Marg Helgenberger, Justin Lazard,
and Natasha Henstridge
Theatrical aspect ratio: 1.85:1
USA, 1998

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