Anaconda – 1.5/4 stars
Whether the fascination is borne of innate fears of the species that ultimately caused The Fall of Man or we’re all simply suckers for an obvious metaphor for the phallus, snakes and cinema enjoy a long history together. The obvious crowning achievement (providing your definition of “achievement” is “gimmick that wore out its welcome long before entering the movieplex”) of this love/hate affair is obviously 2006’s better-in-theory Snakes on a Plane.
But for all the hype afforded to Snakes on a Plane, that film is far outmatched by the success of Anaconda (1997), which nearly doubled the box office take-home of the snake-infested Internet-craze-fueled Samuel L. Jackson vehicle, thanks in no small part to a certain Ms. Jennifer Lopez who spends 99% of the movie clad in a form-fitting, light-colored tank top that is in perpetual danger of being splashed with water.
And like so many pet pythons released recklessly into the Everglades by their selfish douchebag owners, Anaconda multiplied at an alarming rate and spawned a franchise that grew to include 3 sequels, one of which—Anaconda 3: Offspring—starred David Hasselhoff. In related news: how is this the first I am hearing of a ’Hoff SciFi feature?
To say that Anaconda is a festering pile of reptilian shit would be akin to making an argument that cats own the Internet or that Steven Seagal has perhaps been treating that serpentine coil atop his head with Just For Men for the last 15 years; rather fucking obvious, no?
Anaconda is an excruciating 1½ hours of terrible computer effects, boring dialogue and missed opportunity. Apart from a baffling over-the-top performance by Jon Voigt as a nefarious South American snake expert (try to watch his performance and NOT think of Christopher Walken in The Continental on SNL), there’s very little camp value in the surprisingly dull waters of the Amazon. There is a place in the world for Bad Monster Movies and creature features, but little need for one so absent of joie de vivre, imagination and/or an underlying sense of paranoia.
There are countless better monster movies at your disposal. Take, for instance, The Monster That Challenged The World (1957) a silly black and white about an earthquake in the Salton Sea that unleashes a group of radioactive mollusks on a seaside military town (not exactly the world, but pardon them for their grandiosity).
The monster is terribly unconvincing, but there is some earnestness and at least an attempt to comment on (if not exploit wholesale) relevant audience fears. By watching a movie like The Monster… and those of its ilk, today’s film-goer can laugh at the hokey banter and outmoded special effects but also recognize that the country was experiencing a heightened fear of nuclear war and similar atomic paranoia in a post-Korean War/pre-Cuban Missile Crisis era.
Someone watching Anaconda 50 years from now—something like seems unlikely, but hear me out on this one—will come away with little insight into our culture other than that J.Lo. had a kicking booty back in the day.
All that being said, there is some perfunctory entertainment offered in a non-committal viewing of Anaconda. The aforementioned performance by Angelina Jolie’s dad comes to mind, though Voight’s idea of embodying a villain seems to consist of mostly squinting, grimacing and snoozing. Hey, as long as he’s got a ridiculous accent, we’re covered, right?
A few feeble laughs come at the expense of the cast who take turns involuntarily acting as snake bait on an ill-fated river barge in the Amazon. Look for a fresh-faced Owen Wilson (don’t listen, cause he has, like, a total of 6 lines) as the team turncoat and Danny Trejo in one of his 500 other roles that was NOT Machete, as they meet their fate at the unhinged jaw of the fakest looking snake this side of SciFi’s disastrous, but high-spirited Mega Snake (2007). There’s also the giggles associated with the snake’s propensity to growl, screech and yell when agitated or alarmed. The film’s tagline may tell us that “you can’t breathe if you can’t scream” but this beast has no difficulty exercising its lungs to perform either task.
Some mild amusement can also be had from watching the other leading actors—ginger hero Eric Stoltz (who spends a large chunk of the movie “in a coma” that comes and goes as the plot requires) and Ice Cube as the not-at-all-racially stereotyped co-hero (“That’s it man, I’m getting the hell back to L.A.!”)—phone in their adequate performances, but the obvious selling point of Anaconda is Jennifer Lopez’s physique and gung-ho attitude. She’s game for just about anything (including making out with Voight for the sake of saving her pals), but even she can’t save this evolutionary nightmare from eating its own tail.
If it’s cheap thrills in the form of mutant wildlife exercising capacity for moral judgment and reasoning that you’re after, might I suggest skipping the star-studded sludge and heading straight for the classics, instead?* Spring Break Shark Attack, Night of the Lepus and even Locusts come to mind. In the meantime, Anaconda 3, here I come!
*Warning: The designator of “classic” may or may not be a lie.
Rental Rehab review by Tricia