Engdangered Species (DVD)

Starring Eric Roberts, Arnold Vosloo, John Rhys-Davies, Al Sapienza, and Tony LoBianco

Directed by Kevin Tenney

Check out that snakelike being on the box art. Kinda cool, huh? I wonder what movie it’s from because it sure as hell isn’t this one. When you finally do get a good look at the alien’s true form you’re going to understand why they didn’t put it on the box art. Boy, are you going to feel cheated. It looks virtually nothing like the one promised advertised, you only see it for only about 90 seconds near the very end of the movie, and it looks like something that would be seen panhandling on “Babylon 5”.

An alien poacher arrives on Earth killing people for their skin because human hides are popular fabric in outer space. To stop the alien poacher, a cop teams up with what amounts to an alien game warden assigned to our planet.

The idea of evil aliens poaching humans for clothing material while other alien park rangers study us while trying to protect us from these poachers has room for plenty of comedy and social commentary. Too bad you don’t get any of it. You want to know how little imagination the filmmaker put into the script? Well, the evil alien hunter is simply called “The Hunter”. The good alien game warden is simply named “Warden”. I’m amazed he didn’t just name Eric Roberts and John Rhys-Davies characters “Cop” and “Fat Cop”.

That he I speak of is writer/director Kevin Tenney. His name may be familiar to horror fans out there as the director of the cult hits Witchboard and Night of the Demons. Unfortunately, this is the same Kevin Tenney that went on to make the awful Witchboard 2, the laughably bad Corey Haim actioner Demolition University, and the completely pointless sequel The Second Arrival. Now comes Endangered Species, which plays out like a really dumbed down and unimaginative hybrid of I Come In Peace and The Hidden that completely wastes a plot with tremendous b-movie potential by saddling it with a really bad script, uninspired direction, and special effects that make the average Sci-Fi Channel movie look like a Hollywood blockbuster. By special effects, I mean occasional pyrotechnics and fun with blue screens.

The Hunter is killing people at health clubs and taking bodies back with him to his super secret alien hideout (i.e. abandoned warehouse) in order to strip them of their skin to make really ugly jackets that will be sold at the Coruscant Hot Topic. The Hunter is really picky about who he skins because he wants unblemished skin, which means no scars or tattoos. One victim he leaves behind is a woman deemed unacceptable because of her breast augmentation. This would be all well and good except later in the movie he goes on a killing spree at a strip club, which to me sounds like the last place he’d want to go if breast implants and tattoos were a no-no.

Worst of all, The Hunter is one of the least compelling alien villains I’ve seen in quite sometime. He looks like a guy who should be playing a Russian hitman type. He has zero personality and not even his special space weapons make him any more interesting.

The first is called the “Poacher Gun” and it just looks like a large handgun. It fires homing bullets that instinctively targets the eyes or ears so as to not damage their hide. It can even home in on a target from around a corner. In theory, this sounds like a neat weapon, but they way it’s used in an unspectacular manner so it doesn’t even come close to matching the coolness of the flying killer CDs from I Come In Peace that were drawn to a human’s own magnetic field. The other weapon is called the “Big Game Gun” and looks like a miniature hand held bazooka. It’s primarily used whenever the director requires a small explosion. Other than that its very existence doesn’t make much sense. Big Game Gun? For hunting what? Obese people? NBA players? And mind you, the simplistic names of these two weapons come from the mouth of another alien, so clearly advanced alien life forms are incapable of creativity.

That other alien, the warden that just calls himself Warden, is The Mummy’s Arnold Vosloo in a role he’s probably not proud of. For whatever reason, he spends the whole movie dressed like a cat burglar. He’s supposedly superhuman but the one scene where he displays his superhuman agility is less impressive than anything Jackie Chan does on a regular basis. He also spends a good deal of time in his apartment that is loaded with intergalactic high tech gadgets such as hologram view screens, a keyboard with weird symbols in place of the alphabet, and cloaked filing cabinets.

Eventually, he’s forced to team up with Eric Roberts, the lead detective investigating the health club murders. Eric Roberts doesn’t just phone his performance in, he uses Morse code.

Roberts also finds himself having to deal with another detective, portrayed by John Rhys-Davies, best known as everyone’s favorite dwarf from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Now I understand his character is supposed to be rather boorish and unlikeable but I’d love to know why Tenney felt the need to introduce him in his very first scene by having him make racial slurs. I’d like to think that a cop making overtly racist comments right in front of his boss and everyone else in the room would at least get some sort of reprimand, which he does not. I’m still not even sure what purpose Davies’ character served since he never really factors into the plot much.

Earlier I said there was no humor. That’s not entirely true. There’s actually plenty of it assuming you really like your humor as insipid as humanly possible. For example, you get juvenile fat jokes at Davies expense, a really lame running gag about the police captain having an office full of potted plants that he’s constantly watering while spouting off botany tips, and more unfunny banter in the course of 90 minutes than in the entire run of “Saved By The Bell: The College Years”. But the absolute worst attempts at humor are saved for the scenes involving Roberts with his wife and daughters, which are so far into the nether regions of family sitcom cutesyness that you keep waiting for the canned laughter to kick in.

As for the action scenes, you know a movie is out of ideas when they start doing a blatant recreation of the famous police station massacre from The Terminator. The lone highlight of the movie is an absurd nighttime car chase where The Hunter is in a van that he’s cloaked so that all anyone can see is the light emanating from the headlights. I won’t ask why the light from the taillights remains invisible. As ridiculous as the sight of these phantom headlights speeding down the streets is, at least it’s remotely entertaining, which is more than I can say for the rest of the lameness.

If you can watch the final five minutes of Endangered Species and resist the urge to throw something then you’re a better man than I. The climactic showdown is set in the traditional b-movie sanctuary we call the abandoned warehouse. The Hunter has a UFO inside, but we never get to see it because it’s invisible. Warden goes inside it to plant a bomb, but we never get to see that either because I guess that would have been more expensive to show than people having a shootout in an abandoned warehouse. I won’t spoil anymore except to say that the combination of the reveal of The Hunter’s blue-latex head and the astoundingly simple and convenient means by which Roberts kills him will make you want to eject the DVD and forcibly project it into the wall like one of the killer CDs from I Come In Peace. With any luck, if you hurl it hard enough then it will go in pieces.

1 out of 5

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Jon Condit