Los Angeles Times

'Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid'

Times Staff Writer

"Everything gets eaten out here. It's the jungle," declares one of the characters in the jumbo snake comedy "Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid."

One thing that survives, however, is the movie's lush, jungle foliage, as none of the actors here gnaw the scenery with anywhere near the gusto Jon Voight mustered in the 1997 hit "Anaconda," to which this is a follow-up.

Strictly speaking, "Anacondas" is not a comedy but a horror-thriller that feeds on the foolishness of its predecessor. It's actually funnier than most of the so-called comedies we've been punished by this summer and provides a steady stream of yuks in nearly equal doses of the intentional and unintentional variety. Zingy one-liners collide with the kind of deadly earnest scientific mumbo-jumbo guaranteed to earn hoots from even the most somber audience.

The movie is more a remake than a sequel, following the same outline as the first film: People with no business being in the jungle pursue a prize that takes them well beyond the point rational folks would venture. In this scenario, a group of New York scientists working for a large pharmaceutical corporation go to Borneo in pursuit of a rare flower with fountain-of-youth potential. It blooms for only six months once every seven years and, as the group begins its pursuit, only two weeks remain, providing the film with a ticking clock of urgency.

When the sextet — including Salli Richardson-Whitfield's pharmaceutical company representative, Matthew Marsden, Kadee Strickland, Eugene Byrd and Morris Chestnut as researchers and Nicholas Gonzalez as the requisite doctor — arrive in Borneo, they find that the boat they've booked is not available. Desperate, they enlist a captain named Johnson (Johnny Messner) with a decrepit vessel, the Bloody Mary, willing to take them upriver in the middle of monsoon season.

The serpents have been super-sized this time, from 40 to 50 feet (as if a 40-footer were somehow less scary), and there are a lot more of them. As it happens, it's mating season and a veritable orgy of slithering, reptilian debauchery awaits the Bloody Mary. Only marginally frightening to look at, the less-than-realistic snakes get as many laughs as the humans, and that dissipates the suspense but adds to the enjoyment.

"Anaconda" had more star power — Eric Stoltz, Ice Cube, a pre-tabloid J-Lo and a fresh-off "Bottle Rocket" Owen Wilson, in addition to Voight — but the new film's lack of marquee wattage works in its favor. Its "Ten Little Indians Get Fed to the Big Snake" scenario plays with a refreshing randomness; death does not necessarily follow the billing order.

Director Dwight Little, working from a screenplay credited to a blur of ampersands and conjunctions, manages to concoct a highly entertaining movie assured of its genre-jumping potential. Little's smartest directorial decision might have been to cut to Captain Johnson's pet primate — a dead-ringer for the Angels' rally monkey — every time things get bad. The little guy's "see no evil, hear no evil" expressions are the perfect punctuation to a ride that's more fun than Disneyland's Jungle Cruise.

'Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid'

MPAA rating: PG-13 for action violence, scary images and some language

Times guidelines: Brief glimpse of a regurgitated corpse, laughter overcomes elements of fear

Johnny Messner...Bill Johnson

Kadee Strickland...Sam Rogers

Matthew Marsden...Dr. Jack Byron

Nicholas Gonzalez...Dr. Ben Douglas

Eugene Byrd...Cole Burris

Karl Yune...Tran

Salli Richardson-Whitfield...Gail Stern

Morris Chestnut...Gordon Mitchell

A Middle Fork production, released by Screen Gems. Director Dwight Little. Producer Verna Harrah. Executive producer Jacobus Rose. Screenplay by John Claflin & Daniel Zelman and Michael Miner and Ed Neumeier, story by Hans Bauer and Jim Cash & Jack Epps Jr. Cinematographer Stephen F. Windon. Editor Marcus D'Arcy and Marc Warner. Costume designer Terry Ryan. Music Nerida Tyson-Chew. Production designer Bryce Perrin. Art director Bryan Edmonds. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.In general release.

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