Heterosexual male reviewers may dread writing about movies like Species as much as they probably enjoy watching them. How does one suggest, without sounding sexist, that a lead actress (in this case, newcomer Natasha Henstridge) who has been cast solely because she has a nice body and doesn’t mind showing it is the best reason to see the movie? To answer my own question: There is no way, so what the hell. As “Sil,” a half-human/half-alien cooked up by mingling DNA in a lab, Henstridge moves and speaks with the innocent curiosity of a woman new to the planet. She manages to take the curse off the porniness of the premise, which has Sil looking ardently for a male with whom to mate. She’s pretty funny when she’s devouring various men, who quickly go from gratitude for her sexual avidity to horror — especially when she starts sprouting icky tentacles.
Fear of female sexuality! Vagina dentata! You can either get all huffy about the politics of this stuff or you can giggle at it, and for a while I had a great crappy good time. Species is ecstatic trash when Sil is cruising Los Angeles; her utter single-mindedness and sexual directness, which would look unseemly even in a triple-X video, is a witty joke. But her scientific pursuers (Ben Kingsley, Marg Helgenberger, Michael Madsen, Forest Whitaker, Alfred Molina) are singularly colorless and clueless. They run to and fro, racing to prevent Sil from boffing again, and it never seems to occur to them — or to the actors — that there’s anything amusing in their mission. Species clearly isn’t riot-grrrl payback for monster-rapist junk like Humanoids from the Deep: Sil does kill one womanizing creep (as well as two nicer sexual conquests), but she also murders three innocent women, one of whom has her thumb snipped off and then dies screaming in a car explosion — at which point Species, for me, abruptly stopped being fun.
The script by Dennis Feldman (The Golden Child) is pitifully unimaginative; the desperate brainiacs never think to set up a decoy for Sil. (I’d nominate Michael Madsen, who was fine in Reservoir Dogs but has proceeded to give the exact same performance, minus the ear-slicing sadism, in every subsequent role.) In a former life, Roger Donaldson was the gifted director of Smash Palace, Marie, and The Bounty; he hit his box-office peak with No Way Out and has been in free-fall ever since — Cocktail, Cadillac Man, White Sands, The Getaway, and now this movie. Donaldson’s apparent depression about his situation weighs Species down. Generally, he just points the camera at things. Scenes begin, go on, and are over.
The naked, exposed, inexperienced actress at the movie’s center deserves better. Actually, I couldn’t say whether Natasha Henstridge has much of a future in movies; she might go the way of such previous nude man-killers as Mathilda May (Lifeforce) and Patty Mullen (Frankenhooker). But aside from Michelle Williams, who is touching in her few moments as the younger Sil, Henstridge is the only performer in Species who doesn’t act as if she’d wandered into the wrong movie and wanted out.