MY MOTHER, THE CARNIVORE

Species is a sci-fi horror picture that's good for a few laughs because, first of all, it's atrocious, and, secondly, because it has an unbecomingly obvious psychological subtext. This movie made by men is about, to put it crudely, bitches in heat.

A la the three Alien films, the monster's being female is central to the plot, but Species cuts to the chase, both literally and figuratively, of male reproductive terror. A creature who's half alien, half leggy supermodel escapes from the Utah lab in which she's been DNA-engineered, makes it as far as L.A., gets a room and starts throwing herself at men because, as she puts it, "I want a baby." The sperm donors, successful or not, are killed.

While the she-beast is occupied by this murderous race with the ol' biological clock, a crack team of scientists and a hired gun hunt for her. But even in this side of the story, director Roger Donaldson (No Way Out) and screenwriter Dennis Feldman can't resist showing us another example of a hard-up, desperate woman.

One of the team members is Marg Helgenberger, who, in spite of looking great and being rich enough to live in Simi Valley, dutifully confesses that she spends all her time yearning for guys like the hunky hired gun (Michael Madsen). When he at last decides to give the poor thing a break and stops by her hotel room to service her, she looks through her peephole, sees him standing there and cries, "Yesss!" in triumph.

Maybe Donaldson and Feldman had some idea that they were creating a sympathetic allegory about the distaff reproductive urge as they imagine it to manifest itself, but what comes out onscreen feels more like fear, or even contempt. Not only is the maternal-minded mutant a killer, she's a tease--she lets one guy (Anthony Guidera) take her home, then rejects him as genetically unfit when she senses that he's diabetic. When he then tries to force himself on her, she sticks her tongue through the back of his head. No means no.

All this cautionary misogyny would seem far uglier than it does if it weren't so laughably inept. A really good cast is put through this purgatory of possibly the worst sci-fi dialogue since the legendary Robot Monster. Along with Helgenberger, Madsen and the lovely, statuesque newcomer Natasha Henstridge as the creature, Ben Kingsley and Alfred Molina are also on hand, looking embarrassed.

The largest share of pity, however, must go to poor Forest Whitaker. Playing an empath, brought along on the hunt to help the team understand what the creature is feeling, he manages to be more likable than anyone else in the film, but the role is like a practical joke being played on this wonderful actor--he's repeatedly forced to state the obvious. The team will arrive at some scene of destruction and carnage, and Whitaker will solemnly intone, "She's been here." Or, after seeing the fourth or fifth of her eviscerated victims, Whitaker helpfully notes, "She kills when she feels threatened.

 
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