Vincenzo Natali's Splice, opening Friday, has obvious whiffs of David Cronenberg and Guillermo del Toro -- and even some Brian DePalma, with its twisted brew of sex, lies and mutant hybrid creatures.
If the script by Natali and two other writers has its share of dialogue clunkers and over-the-top moments, it still understands the basics of how to construct a speculative-fiction suspense-thriller with a strong "man plays God" theme. It's wholly predictable, but creepy enough to keep you engaged.
Adrien Brophy and Sarah Polley play Clive and Elsa, lovers and colleagues, gene-splicers par excellence for a research lab whose acronym is "NERD." They've synthesized a new life form by blending bits of DNA from a variety of creatures -- and now hope to use its secretions to cure all disease. Their creatures, called Fred and Ginger, are like giant, sentient tongues with limited Silly Putty capability and a mean stinger.
But the company pulls the rug out from under them, just as they've reached a new step: the experimental introduction of human DNA to the creature. But the big boss says no -- and so Clive and Elsa are forced to stop splicing genes and start analyzing chemical secretions of their big, pink slug.
Instead, they go rogue, secretly adding human genes to the mixture, producing a clandestine offspring which, at first, looks like a mammoth spermatozoa dipped in motor oil. It quickly evolves into a house-pet-sized creature with pink naked flesh, kangaroo legs and the head of a squirrel, emitting rodent-like squeaks and chirps. The creature, which is female, also has a prehensile tail, equipped with a poisonous stinger that she can make stand at attention.
The preposterousness factor is off the charts here, but Natali moves so swiftly that you can repeatedly say, "Oh, come on," only to find yourself so quickly drawn into the next sequence that you don't have time to process just how silly this all is. It moves almost as fast as the creature -- which is named Dren (nerd backwards) -- evolves into an adult that looks tantalizingly human (except, of course, for that tail).
Dren, played by Delphine Cheneac like an escapee from Cat People, is that deadliest of movie monsters: the other disguised in pleasing human form. Clive and Elsa begin treating her like their own child ("Look -- she's imprinting on me," Elsa purrs) -- big mistake. Didn't these people see The Omen?
Brody, an Oscar winner, and Polley, an Oscar nominee, should know better. They're certainly the least likely genetic scientists you've ever seen, each pushing the other take it one step further than they thought they dared. They have chemistry as a couple, if not credibility as wild-ass biologists.
Splice is flashy and entertaining, but nothing special. It provides the kind of guilty-pleasure thrills that all sci-fi does -- the kind of "I should know better" acquiescence to the outlandish, in the name of moving the story forward. You willingly suspend your disbelief -- but you won't be proud of yourself for doing it. In the end, it's another cheesy sci-fi tale, whose strong ending is preceded by a lot of silliness.
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