In the monster romp Splice, biochemists Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) use DNA splicing to hatch a half-human, half-animal creature in their lab, then take a parental shine. Big mistake. Scientists, whether sane or mad, should never treat their lab subjects like offspring. Disaster is inevitable.
But Clive and Elsa have obviously never watched Frankenstein (or any of David Cronenberg's films) , and the movie none-too-subtly lets us know they're thinking about starting a family. Why not try things out with this deformed, mewling slug? The horrible-yet-strangely-cute mutant grows up quickly (she ages days within minutes) and becomes Dren (Delphine Cheneac), a humanoid with peculiar characteristics, such as vaguely supermodel looks, wings that sprout when she becomes angry or aroused and a tail with a phallic stinger that pumps poison. Dren is usually gentle - she likes kittens, sugary foods and playing with toys - except when she throws a tantrum, in which case tranquilizer darts and a titanium steel cage might come in handy.
But Clive and Elsa, who have squirreled Dren out of their laboratory and to a remote farmhouse where they can raise her away from their meddling bosses, haven't really prepared for the worst-case scenario. Splice was directed by Vincenzo Natali, who made the fiendishly creepy, low-budget shocker Cube, and he fares well in the scenes depicting a pre-grown Dren and her brethren - fleshy, formless slugs you don't know whether to pet or euthanize. But although Brody and Polley do their best to sell the increasingly illogical behavior of their characters, Splice grows progressively sillier the older Dren gets, finally resorting to chases in dark woods and sudden gotcha! appearances by a pissed-off mutant, who is none too happy about the corrective behavior her parents have planned for her.
The creature effects are terrific, but the human protagonists aren't nearly so interesting, and the don't-mess-with-nature message is too hoary to be made interesting with this feeble setup. By the time the film's climactic 15 minutes rolled around, viewers at a preview were laughing as if they were watching The Hangover. For a horror picture, such a reaction is the equivalent of a stake through the heart.
Splice (** out of ****) opens Friday June 4 in South Florida.