Monday, January 25, 2010

Anaconda (USA, 1997)

For some strange reason, a lot of people get awfully excited about this movie, and not because they like it. Despite its status as a hit when it was released—or maybe because of it—few people have anything good to say about it. Even Anaconda’s nominal star Jennifer Lopez has little praise for it, claiming that "This film was supposed to be my big break, but it turned out to be a big disaster." (Well, honey, big disaster or not, it sure brought you a lot of attention... a lot more than your much better acting job as a two-faced sexpot did in the far superior U-turn [1997 / trailer].) True, this killer snake flick is on the far side from being a masterpiece, but then one hardly expects something good from Luis Llasa, the man responsible for that laugh-a-minute comedy The Specialist (1994 / trailer), which starred Sylvester Stallone, James Wood and Sharon Stone and made no sense at all.
Of the cast of Anaconda, only Jon Voight alone seemingly had the insight to realize what the end product would be, the result being that he virtually walks away with the film with his over-the-top performance as the sleazy Paul Sarone, the baddest of bad guys. Most of the other actors actually fare relatively well considering how two dimensional their respective characters are, but none of them leave the lasting impression of Voight. Anaconda may be a far cry from Midnight Cowboy (1969 / trailer), Deliverance (1972 / trailer) or even Runaway Train (1985 / trailer) in terms of “content” and respectability, but good overacting is almost as seldom as good acting—and if the Voight’s earlier films are much more serious than this one, Anaconda is definitely a lot more fun. (Hard to believe that a man that ugly could be than dad of a woman as bonkable as Angelina Jolie.)
After a short opening scene revealing an unseen monster at work and a man who would rather blow his brains out than face the creature, Anaconda introduces it various characters, all of whom make up a film crew led by Dr Steven Cale (Eric Stolz) and director Terri Flores (Jennifer Lopez) that is going down (up?) the Amazon is search of some lost tribe. (Amazing how few mosquitoes the Amazon has—was a bit different when I went to Iquitos back in '97.) Along the way they pick up Sarone (Voight), who is stranded on a half-sunken boat. Cale eventually swallows a wasp and spends most of the rest of the film unconscious in bed, much to the viewer’s relief, ‘cause the guy was a bore anyway. In short time, the screaming demon—er, snake—of the film eats a stuffed black panther, the ship’s captain and, after Sarone forcibly takes control of the boat, the crew’s soundman Gary (Owen Wilson) as well. Flores and the others manage to knock Sarone out, but their situation hardly improves. (Oddly enough, despite the fact that Flores looks not be wearing a bra for the entire movie up this scene, when she finally decides to use her “charms” to distract Sarone, she suddenly has visible support.) Narrator Warren Westridge (Jonathan Hyde) gets swallowed just as he finally gets likable, and pointless character Denise Kalber (Kari Wuhrer) gets it for getting to close to Sarone’s crotch. Flores and her cameraman (Ice Cube) spend the rest of the film alternately fighting some anaconda or Sarone, with little time left to breathe in-between.....
Sure, the computer effects are obvious, but does one watch Tarantula (1955 / trailer) because of excellent effects? Anaconda is exciting, laughable, unrealistic, idiotic and fun, just like the best of B films—and this film is a B film, no matter how much money might have been sunk into it. Pop in that video, pop that popcorn, leave your brain at the door and enjoy. Anaconda is a monster movie, and big budget or not, intentional or not, it’s a cheesy big budget movie that is fun to watch, possibly in spite of itself. You want something classy, something serious, why the hell are you even reading this blog?
Anaconda, by the way, has spawned a successful franchise of straight-to-DVD that currently includes Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (2004 / trailer) Anaconda III (2008 / trailer) Anaconda 4: Trail of Blood (2009 / trailer). The franchise doesn’t look to be ending anytime soon, despite having descended to the lower depths of Z-level production.

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