So, how does a production company follow up a financially successful creature feature that surprised audiences and critics alike with its absurd watchability? By doing it all over again, but with less than half the budget. It’s almost criminal.
Anaconda, the 1997 giant snake flick starring future superstar Jennifer Lopez, ranks very high in the Shitty Movie Sundays Watchability Index. It was shocking how so stupid a movie ended up being so entertaining. It was also something of a surprise that it took another seven years for there to be a sequel, as Hollywood is not known for passing up free money.
I don’t know what kind of development hell this sequel was in, but at some point, the producers seemed to throw up their hands and tell their filmmakers to make the same movie all over again, and see if it could still make money. Well, like its predecessor, Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid, made back about three times its budget, so it was a success for those who stood to receive financial rewards from the film. But, what about the rest of us? You know, the people movies are made for?
Good news and bad news. Anacondas is not as watchable, or as good, as Anaconda, but it tracks so closely (frankly, it lifts whole scenes from the earlier film), that the only way it could really fail was if director Dwight H. Little and company were total incompetents. As soon as things started to get away from them, all they had to do was pop a copy of Anaconda into the VHS player to see what they should do next.
The action moves from South America, the natural habitat of anacondas, where the first film took place, to Borneo, where there are no anacondas. But, this is Hollywood, where anything is possible.
The film follows a group of people, pharmaceutical researchers and a cameraman, as they travel upriver into the jungle in search of an elusive orchid, whose unique chemical composition promises a new miracle drug. They are: Jack (Matthew Marsden), Sam (KaDee Strickland), Gordon (Morris Chestnut), Gail (Salli Richardson-Whitfield), Cole (Eugene Byrd), and Ben (Nicholas Gonzalez). Time is not on their side, as the orchid blooms only once every seven years, for a period of only a few weeks. Unfortunately, it’s the rainy season in Borneo, and all of the available vessels and crews are unwilling to travel the dangerous, swollen rivers. All except for one captain and his ramshackle vessel.
Enter Bill Johnson (Johnny Messner) and his first mate, Tran (Karl Yune). For a big pile of cash, they agree to take the expedition upriver.
Messner is a treat in this film. In his first scene, where he’s introduced Han Solo-style, he speaks in nothing but cliché. Okay, the dialogue isn’t his responsibility. That falls to the numerous screenwriters. But, he slathers all his lines in gravelly manliness and Clint Eastwood stares, to the point of high satire. I’m sure that wasn’t Messner’s intention. Why would he screw up a payday? The cynical shitty movie fan in me hopes that Messner knew exactly the kind of movie in which he was starring, and dialed up the cheese as a wink and a nod to all of us. Probably not, though. This was probably his authentic acting style.
Of course, as the expedition moves upriver, they enter anaconda country, and things start to go wrong. To start, their boat plunges over a waterfall.
Wait a minute. Weren’t they traveling upriver? It’s not possible to go over a waterfall while traveling upriver, unless you’re a fucking salmon. How in the world?
If we’re going to pick nits, I have to point out that right before they go over the falls, they miss a turn into another river. It’s possible the turn they miss puts them into the downward flow of the new river, and thus towards the falls. But, Little didn’t do a thing to make that clear. So, it’s either a shitty movie moment akin to when ice sinks in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, or a nothingburger of poor filmmaking. Potential viewer, I leave it up to you to decide.
Back in the plot, the shipwrecked expedition has stumbled upon an area of jungle host to a mating female anaconda and all her horny suitors. Cast members begin to get eaten, and the group has to decide whether to carry on or give up. They choose poorly. Thank goodness for the sunk cost fallacy, otherwise movies like this would end prematurely.
More death, more jungle, and an impressive heel turn from Marsden. Normally I wouldn’t spoil a plot element such as this, but this movie sucks, and Marsden deserves some praise. When he goes bad, he becomes much more menacing than the film’s tone calls for, but he was damn believable. He was more frightening than the poorly CGI’d snakes.
He wasn’t enough to save the film, though. This flick is just as much a remake of Anaconda as it is a sequel, and that’s just cheap. The only thing new is a little window dressing in the plot, and some shuffling around of character roles. But, it really is the same movie, only with a more affordable cast.
It’s just…less…than the film that came before. It’s a bucket of stale movie theater popcorn. It will still get eaten, but one won’t feel all that happy about it. Unapologetic thievery does not hurt a shitty movie’s score in the Index, however. Some of the greatest shitty movies ever made were guilty of stealing. At least this flick stole from its own IP. It lands in the #157 spot, just about in the very middle of the Index, displacing that volcano movie. There are worse shitty movies one could watch.