Splice

As the credits were rolling and everyone else was scampering to leave the theatre -- though they were really short credits, bizarrely, so they almost didn't have to bother -- the woman who'd been sitting two rows behind me said to her friend, "That was so ethically questionable." She has a point, even though twenty minutes before that she and her friend were both laughing so loudly that anyone happening by would have assumed there was a comedy playing on the screen. Sadly, though, that particular scene did have its laughable aspects, so I can't entirely blame them.

I didn't expect anything like good science going in, of course, but not being a scientist I figured I'd miss most of the really terrible problems. They're sort of all terrible problems, though. I mean, obviously you know you have to overlook the basic impossibility of the premise -- mixing animal and human DNA, which I'm pretty sure can't be done, and if it is being done, it's being done by people who are a lot better organized and more, well, scientific than our heroes here.

Now, Sarah Polley is wonderful. Adrien Brody is a really good actor. Between the two of them, they made the most incomprehensible scientific nonsense lines sound like they actually meant something. In places, it seemed like they were both making a tremendous effort to get the film past certain ares of, shall we say, questionable logic. Sometimes I felt tired just watching them. But they're both good at their jobs, and they get us through somehow... even if sometimes a couple of people in the theatre do laugh insanely.

Sarah is Elsa Kast and Adrien plays Clive Nicoli, uberscientists and lovers specializing in genetic engineering. They create Fred and Ginger, two, um, living things. They look like a cross between slugs and something I can't mention in a family-friendly review, though in spite of their unfortunate looks, everyone seems to think they're adorable. Their real value is to the pharmaceutical company currently paying for Elsa and Clive's high-tech lab toys, run by Joan Chorot -- played by Simona Maicanescu, who's apparently Romanian but speaks French. I once had a professor who was Romanian but everyone in his hometown spoke German. Doesn't anyone in Romania speak Romanian?

Anyway, she thinks Fred and Ginger are cute because they both generate some sort of animal protein that does wonderful things for various farm crops. Considering how freaked out people are over bovine growth hormone, I find it hard to believe that this is such a great product, but we'll skip that. Now, Ms. Chorot says, it's time to find the specific gene in the two cute little blobs that creates this protein and synthesize it more directly, thus apparently reducing Clive and Elsa to glorified lab techs.

Elsa in particular isn't going to put up with this, and she's scary when she's determined. Her idea of the next logical phase was to add human DNA into the mix for greater efficiency, and you'd better believe that's what she's going to do. As Clive's brother Gavin (Brandon McGibbon, Saw V, from the Horror Movie Series that Never Ends, apparently) points out, since Clive is no good at saying no to her, that means he's going to do it, too.

Thus is born -- or rather, created -- Dren (first played by Abigail Chu; then by Delphine Chanéac, who really is French, as grown-up Dren). And yes, that's nerd spelled backwards. Our heroes work for a place called Nucleic Exchange, Research, and Development, you see. Since use of human DNA is illegal, they're risking jail time with this, and probably ostracism in the scientific community as well, though they don't seem too concerned about that. I think they like being renegades. But they have to hide Dren, which gets harder and harder as Elsa starts treating her more and more like the child she didn't quite want to have with Clive. Dren gets locked in basements and barns, closed up in cardboard boxes, and never gets to meet anyone except Clive and Elsa. Well, she doesn't meet anyone else to speak to, let's say, though Dren mostly just makes little high-pitched squeaky sounds like a dolphin.

I can't decide on all the bits and pieces used to put her together. Frog DNA is one thing, apparently, but beyond that I'm not sure. They insist that none of the DNA they used for Dren is from any sort of predator species -- except, as Clive points out, for the human part -- though that doesn't explain the tail. The only thing I can find that has a tail with a stinger like that is a scorpion, and they're mean. Clash of the Titans proves it, and they're even worse in real life. So really, everything that happens after they've thrown that into the mix is their own silly fault, and entirely predictable

Which brings me to the problem that's slightly worse than all the pseudo-science problems. If you've seen even one movie in your lifetime that could qualify as an action, thriller, or sci-fi flick, then you can predict the entirety of this film after watching about the first fifteen minutes. I started guessing -- something I actually don't usually do, but I gave in to temptation this time -- and had about a 98% success rate. So yay for me, but boo for the predictable script. No one's that good at guessing, and certainly not me.

So let's see. Four for the acting. It's a very small cast -- the imdb lists exactly seven people as actors, all mentioned above -- but Sarah and Adrien manage to shine in spite what they have to work with. The plot gets one and a half. Like Repo Men, it's a neat idea that doesn't quite manage to translate well onto the screen. That averages out to three overall. Okay, it really averages out to 2.75, but I have to give some credit to the seamless CGI and prosthetics and whatever else they used to make Dren in all the stages of her life, because it's so cool. Basically, even though you know what's going to happen to her, you still hate to see it happen because she seems so terribly real and human, in spite of how she looks.

There were a couple of places where I was downright embarrassed on behalf of the actors -- and yes, one of them was the scene that was just so funny -- but overall I was entertained enough not to worry much about the inaccuracies, and the characters were real, even if the science behind them wasn't. Just remember, it really is ethically questionable, so the easily freaked or grossed out should be careful. Whenever a movie begins by spelling out actors' names using living, pulsing veins, you know you're in for a trip.

Image: 
Elsa and Dren come face to face for the first time.

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