Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid

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They’re calling “Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid” a sequel to the 1997 hit “Anaconda,” but it’s not one. It has none of the same characters, it’s not the same snake, it’s set on a different continent, and it has a different director and writers. The only thing it has in common with the first film is subject matter, which means if this is a sequel to “Anaconda,” then “Deep Blue Sea” is a sequel to “Jaws.”

You can get depressed just looking at the cast. “Anaconda” had Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Jon Voight, Owen Wilson and Eric Stoltz. The new film? Say hello to Morris Chestnut and nobody else.

Anyway, it is set in the rivers and jungles of Borneo, where a couple of entrepreneurs backed by a drug company are looking for the “blood orchid,” a type of flower said to have restorative powers — “a pharmaceutical equivalent to the fountain of youth,” says one character in a helpful bit of succinct exposition. This flower only blooms once every seven years, so the group must find and harvest it ASAP, even though it’s the rainy season and the rivers are very dangerous and there are enormous cartoon snakes swimming around (except they don’t know about the snakes yet).

You have your usual eclectic group of travelers. The mastermind is Gordon (Morris Chestnut), who engages in third-grade-level trash-talking with Gail (Salli Richardson-Whitfield), a humorless woman who represents the pharmaceutical company sponsoring the expedition. Gordon and Gail are destined to fall in love, of course, since they are the Black Characters (a third black character, whom we will discuss shortly, does not count, since he is the comic relief and is therefore not entitled to a love interest). There’s a medical doctor named Ben (Nicholas Gonzalez), Gordon’s British business partner Jack (Matthew Marsden), and a researcher named Samantha (KaDee Strickland).

The aforementioned comic relief is Cole (Eugene Byrd) the technical whiz, whose job is to annoy you by talking fast and too much and basically being Steppin Fetchit. “Are you tellin’ me there are snakes out there?!” he sputters, just one of many “Are you tellin’ me” questions he shouts at random intervals. At several points, I honestly expected him to say, “Feets, don’t fail me now!,” run in place for a few seconds and then speed off into the jungle. But he didn’t.

The group hires a mercenary boat captain, not unlike a Mr. Han Solo, who insists his vessel, though it may not look like much, has got it where it counts. His name is Bill (Johnny Messner), and he speaks in a manly grunt and says ponderous things like, “Everything gets eaten out here. It’s the jungle.” His first mate (or something) is Tran (Karl Yune), the only person resembling a Borneo local in the main cast. (Bill, though living and working in Borneo, is of course American so that the American characters and American audience can be interested in him. Who wants to look at an Indonesian person for 90 minutes?!)

Anyway, the eight travelers are soon set upon by a cartoon depicting a comically large snake. This cartoon follows the people around a lot and occasionally eats one of them. That is essentially what the movie is about, though it does also feature a scene of a snake chasing a monkey, which is more than I dared hope for.

The dialogue is obvious and melodramatic, the musical score emphasizes screechy strings and ominous-sounding brass, and the scares are perfunctory, mostly of the we-thought-it-was-the-snake-but-it-turns-out-it-was-just-a-monkey variety. The snake never looks even remotely like a real snake, not even for a second, nor are the effects good enough to convince me that the snake and the people are ever in the same shot at the same time. Of course, you can make a suspenseful movie like this with a small budget and fake-looking monsters — think of “Jaws” again — but then you’d have to deal with “characterization” and “skilled directing,” and why go to all that trouble?

D (1 hr., 37 min.; PG-13, scattered profanity and some being-eaten-by-snakes, though not as much as you'd hope.)

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