Rated: R - Running Time: 1:30 - Released 4/10/98

In response to the marginal success of Species (1995), MGM has thrown a bunch of money at the sequel, hoping to match the popularity of the Alien series, after which this gore-fest is patterned. But even though the first Species had a cheaper price tag and some major holes in its fabric, it had a modicum of common sense about it that, in the sequel, is blown away like so much raspberry jam exploding out of someone's stomach.

We start out at the research facility where Dr. Laura Baker (Marg Helgenberger) has grown another version of the alien/human creature like Sil (Natasha Henstridge) from the first movie. This one is called Eve. Why Dr. Baker would do this after repeatedly being almost killed by the vicious monster is beyond me. But this time, she assures us, Eve (Henstridge again) is being monitored more closely. She is equipped with a biological collar that fries her brain if she escapes, and her instinct to mate (which was the driving passion of Sil) is curbed by the fact that there are no men on the premises. All scientists, technicians, and guards are female. So it's just like one big sorority party.

Meanwhile, however, the first manned mission to Mars has gone awry. During a seven-minute silence in their radio transmissions, the three members of the crew (Justin Lazard as Patrick Ross, Miriam Cyr as Dr. Ann Sampers, and Mykelti Williamson as Dennis Gamble) have been infected with Martian DNA by some goop that emerged from one of their soil samples after thawing onboard the ship. So now, although Eve is well-guarded, there are three other possible beasties looking to reproduce, and they happen to be nestled inside the bodies of the three most famous, attractive, and hot-to-trot astronauts on the planet. As Homer Simpson would say, "D--ohh!"

Though Matthew F. Leonetti's cinematography is beautiful, especially that depicting the Martian landing, director Peter Medak has obviously turned up the gore and writer Chris Brancato has turned down the characterization. Helgenberger has had a makeover since the last movie, and I think the character of Dr. Baker was washed down the sink in the process of the blonde rinse. Where she had been a semi-credible scientist, she's now spouting eminently clever lines like, "If he's reproducing, then there's a chance of offspring." Henstridge's alien is supposed to be deeper and more sensitive, but as in the first movie, she's terrible at anything other than looking good. And also returning is Michael Madsen as Press Lenox, the hired assassin whose character is unchanged, understandably irritated that he is again being asked to hunt down these creatures that almost killed him before. Why, he wonders — as do we — do they keep making MORE?

Brancato's astronauts are two-dimensional, especially Gamble, who should be a respected black scientist (you know, like an astronaut?) but whose role is written like a homeboy from the projects. I would think Williamson would have been offended at this script. When the other two are home making love to their spouses, he's talking about "gettin' some booty."

An appearance by James Cromwell as Ross's domineering father tries to make up for the loss of real actors like Ben Kingsley and Forest Whitaker from Species, but overall, Species II is much gorier and less credible than its substandard parent. The effects are there, though, and that's what sells those tickees. **½

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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