Picks and Pans Review: Species

updated 07/24/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/24/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Natasha Henstridge, Ben Kingsley

Someday, Hollywood may be interested in my idea for a sci-fi film about a common kitchen sponge that turns out to be an alien spore. A drop of water, it springs to life and hurls plates and cutlery to the floor! Then it dries out and returns to its deceptive quiescent state. In the end it is killed in a dishwashing machine. (Or is it?) When all is said and done, Species isn't much more sophisticated than Sponge (as my movie would be called), but its production values are certainly top-notch.

A group of government scientists, who apparently are dumber than cows, mix human DNA with a genetic structure beamed to Earth by aliens they believe are friendly. The resulting creature, a cute little girl with pulsating growths on her back, escapes from the laboratory and mutates into the beautiful Henstridge (see page 164). Whenever Henstridge, whose biological clock is ticking, gets thwarted in her search for a man to impregnate her, she reveals her true, lethal, alien form, which suggests a strange mix of dominatrix, Creature from the Black Lagoon and Balinese string puppet.

Director Roger Donaldson handles the violence discreetly and keeps the whole thing moving along. Horror audiences will get their money's worth. But Species is set up as a chase film, and on that level it fails miserably. Henstridge is being pursued by a team that includes one of her creators (Kingsley), a molecular biologist (Marg Helgenberger) and a sort of top secret, federal bounty hunter (Michael Madsen), but most of the sleuthing is left to a psychic (Forest Whitaker), who is always pulling up short and whispering, "She's here," or "She's not here." As plot devices go, that one is decidedly lazy, and it drains the film of suspense. (R)

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