MOVIE REVIEW: 'Splice' caters to sci-fi enthusiasts

Photo by Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. P

Photo by Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. P

Splice (R)

2 1/2 out of 4 stars

With the exception of animation, science-fiction is the only genre where filmmakers can flat-out ignore the laws of science and physics and get away with it. Do whatever you want but remember this catch: Once you establish the rules in your own particular cinematic universe, however silly or far-fetched, you'd better stick to them. To their immense credit, Italian director Vincenzo Natali and his two co-writers never break this cardinal rule.

In many ways, "Splice" is like every other "man-playing-God" flick that has preceded it: A brazen scientist/chemist or two tries to mess with Mother Nature and then all hell breaks loose. Natali and company don't offer much in the original idea department but somewhat make up for it with three superb acting performances and some sick-puppy stylistic flair.

After synthesizing a protein which can cure practically every physical ill found in creatures on the farm and in the wild, biochemist lovers Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) have told their financiers they can do the same thing for humans. Understandably skittish about the inevitable negative public reaction to this, their bosses shut their project down and cut off their funding.

Nonplussed and not the least bit deterred by the bad news, Elsa goes ahead with her plans and after appealing to his professional ego, gets the initially skeptical Clive to go along. In secret in the subterranean basement of the company's lab, the pair successfully hatch their creature (a female) but is kind of unsure of what to do next.

Growing at a rate 10 times faster than that of a normal human, the creature -- now named Dren (nerd spelled backwards) -- becomes harder to hide so Elsa relocates her to the barn adjacent to her late mother's dilapidated home in middle of nowhere. With no one to bother them, Clive, Elsa and Dren become something resembling a family, but Dren -- now effectively a highly-intelligent yet emotionally primitive adult -- is bored silly and more than a tad headstrong.

Starting out looking like the spawn of a duck and Gollum from "Lord of the Rings," the adult Dren (French beauty Delphine Chaneac) resembles a bald Michelle Pfeiffer with ostrich legs that can sprout wings. She begins favoring the company of one of her creators over another and isn't beyond doing whatever is necessary to get her way. This marks the halfway point in the movie and is also where it goes from fascinating and serious to deranged and camp. Think David Cronenberg by way of John Waters.

The radical shift in tone isn't as jarring as one might expect but Natali pushes it over the edge with one "that is just plain wrong" scene that throws everything permanently and irreversibly off-kilter. The reaction of the audience at the preview screening to this scene was immediate and deafening with a mix of disgust, giggling and horror -- which might be exactly what Natali wanted. For a filmmaker it is far better to be laughed at and scorned than ignored.

It's a safe bet that even if "Splice" tanks at the box office (which is unlikely given the already heavy water cooler level of anticipation), it will receive immediate, guilty-pleasure/cult legend status and, thanks to its open-ended final scene, will result in a bunch of inferior sequels.

"Splice" isn't great but it is certainly interesting, and if you're the least bit morbidly curious, it is well worth your investment of time and money. (Warner Bros.)