The creature whose predatory rampage befouls the screen in “Species” is a mongrel fusion of wholesome human genes and hideous extraterrestrial stuff. Here we have an unwitting metaphor for the film itself - a mongrel cross between top-shelf Hollywood artistry and the crasser depths of exploitation.
Australian-born director Roger Donaldson’s resume includes “The Bounty” and “Marie: A True Story,” among the better films of the middle 1980s. The cast includes “Ghandi” Oscar champ Ben Kingsley, Cannes favorite Forest Whitaker and “The Perez Family” leading man Alfred Molina.
Producer Frank Mancuso Jr. is more strongly identified with the big screen’s sleaziest sex-and-gore franchise: He ran the “Friday the 13th” series from 1982-89, but has dabbled in higher-minded fare such as the cop thriller “Internal Affairs” (1990) and the bedroom farce “He Said, She Said” (1991).
So “Species” seems just a case of back-tobasics for Mancuso. It is more a matter of honest work, honorably discharged, for the director and cast.
Dennis Feldman’s screenplay proposes that some intelligence from Out There sends to this planet an alien DNA sequence, which our scientists combine with human genetic material to create a Whatsit that looks like a cute little girl (Michelle Williams). The unease kicks in early when big-shot lab boss Kingsley orders the child’s death.
But the girl escapes, leaving her executioners to writhe in their own cyanide fumes. Whereupon Kingsley assembles a search-and-destroy team; the creature will reach adulthood in just a reel or so.
The being is dangerous enough on her own, Kingsley reasons, but what she really wants to do is reproduce. She seems more than a match for a government assassin (Michael Madsen), an extra-sensory tracker (Whitaker), a molecular biologist (Marg Helgenberger) and a Harvard anthropologist (Molina) - whom she eludes at every junction.
The creature is a latter-day Frankenstein Monster that is not so much “evil” as it is amoral, offering humanity a formidable conflict of biological imperatives.
The ultimate confrontation takes place in too private a setting to pack the kind of wallop such a tale needs: Better the she-beast should have tried unleashing her new race of godly monsters in Disneyland or some big-city shopping mall.
Among the ensemble cast, Whitaker stands out as a tormented sort who seems literally to feel the emotions of his fellow human beings. Too savvy an actor to play such a role just for misery, Whitaker strikes a tone of droll humor that makes him the most sympathetic character of the lot.
For a film born of so uneasy a mingling, “Species” works well enough to become a summer contender.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “Species” Location: Lincoln Heights, North Division and Coeur d’Alene cinemas Credits: Directed by Roger Donaldson, starring Ben Kingsley, Forest Whitaker, Marg Helgenberger, Natasha Henstridge Running time: 1:48 Rating: R