Anaconda (1997)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
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Our rating: one LAVA® motion lamp.

"Can't I live till the end of just
one movie? Just one?" Danny Trejo would
later get his wish in From Dusk Till Dawn 2.
If there were one thing a movie could do to get on our bad side, it would be killing off our favorite character in the film in the first scene. It happened in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, when Brian Blessed picked up a big sword to fight the bad guys, and was seen later only as a hanging corpse. It happened again in Congo when Bruce Campbell was killed by a POV shot mere minutes after the trailers ended. Now we have Anaconda, which teases us with the presence of Danny Trejo. Sadly, Danny's character puts a gun to his head before anybody else in the cast even shows up.

If this had been a movie about Danny Trejo fighting a giant snake, we probably would have liked it a lot more. Instead, Anaconda pits the snakes against an ethnically diverse group of documentary filmmakers. On the Amazon, and looking to make a film about the Blair Witch, our film makers include Jennifer Lopez as director Terri Flores, Ice Cube as cameraman Danny Rich, and Jonathan Hyde as narrator Warren Westridge. There are a couple of other people along too, mainly so there will plenty of victims around for the snakes to eat.

When a game of Snakes and Ladders
goes really, really wrong.
As they chug down the river on their rickety hired boat, they pick up a shady character named Paul Sarone, played by Jon Voight. Voight seems to base his performance on the captain of the Rita in Creature from the Black Lagoon. You remember him, he claimed that the catfish in the river were "keelers." As a matter of fact, all the creatures of the Amazon were "keelers" according to him. Paul's equivalent statement is that the "river has a thousand ways to kill you." He, of course, is the film's villain, an avaricious snake hunter who has manipulated the unknowing filmmakers into becoming the bait for his next set of slithery targets. Voight obviously has more fun than anyone else in the cast (save perhaps Eric Stoltz, who is mercifully comatose for the the last half of the film), strutting about with an evil leer on his face and a machete in his hand.

As entertaining as Voight might seem, the rest of the cast and the stupid plot crush the life out of Anaconda more effectively than could any snake. This is the dumbest bunch of documentary filmmakers ever to exist, certainly dumber than should have been allowed to take a trip down the Amazon. Several of the characters are even supposed to be experts in this sort of adventuring, but in general they end up just as dead as the city folk, victims to the snakes and their patented Amazing Yo-Yo Snake ActionTM. Not that this was much of a disappointment, since the actors on screen are turning in half-hearted performances at best. Kari Wurher seems to be trying to shed her T&A-film image but sadly not her clothing. Hyde's largest contribution was the laugh we had when we saw the rest of his filmography. Jennifer Lopez had better line delivery as a Fly Girl.

"Yummy Yummy Yummy I'll have
bad actor in my tummy!"
Why is Lopez in this film, anyway? For most of Anaconda's running time, it seemed to us that Lopez and Voight were engaged in a cage match to see who could damage their career more. Lopez has to be the winner, just because her career is still ahead of her. Voight (whose roles of late have run the gamut from Hispanic sleazes to Caucasian sleazes to Native American sleazes) has already had his career, and can now afford to be in bad movies and have fun doing it. The fact that Lopez went on to be in Out of Sight, on the other hand, should be considered a miracle.

Perhaps the only thing besides Voight that didn't disappoint us was the film's liberal use of the snakes themselves. Too frequently, the monster effect in a monster film is too expensive or too hokey to show often during the course of the movie. Not so with the anaconda, who spend the final third of the film terrorizing the remaining members of the crew. These animatronic and computerized reptiles look good on screen, and we get some nice good looks at them. The problem is that we don't think anaconda actually move like that -- do they really zip around so quickly, and can they really defy gravity by coiling around nothing? We weren't kidding when we called it Amazing Yo-Yo Snake ActionTM. Note to Hollywood: even super-strong creatures need some leverage with which to work. Anaconda also informs us up front that anacondas sometimes spit up what they eat, just so they can eat it again. This isn't true, and even if it were, we doubt that snakes would projectile-vomit entire monkeys or people around for dramatic effect.

We would love to suggest another, better giant snake movie, but we couldn't think of one. Sadly, the giant snake movie is a neglected genre, with such movies as King Cobra and Curse II: The Bite as the token entries. So if you really need to see a movie that delivers on the giant snakes, Anaconda is for you. Anyone else will want to avoid it like a projectile-vomited monkey carcass.

Review date: 01/05/2000

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* Rather, as this web page explains, anaconda will occasionally vomit up their prey when the bacteria in their stomachs manage to digest the food before they do. Go back!