Directed by Luis Llosa. Starring Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Jon Voight, Eric Stoltz, Jonathan Hyde, Owen Wilson, Kari Wuhrer, Vincent Castellanos, Danny Trejo. (1997, PG-13, 89 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 11, 1997
The best giant snake film of 1997! Okay, okay, the only giant snake film of 1997. Which makes it the best, right? Well… yeah, in a way. Truth be told, Anaconda is a numbingly pedestrian affair, surprising no one (discounting the eight-year-old in front of me who thought the whole thing was “way cool”) and really letting down those of us who came expecting a rip-snorting monster movie of epic, serpentine proportions. A little bit Creature From the Black Lagoon, a little bit Jaws, and a whole lot of inexplicable facial convulsions from Jon Voight (“Zee Anaconda… eet ess zee purrfect keeling macheen, yaas?”), Anaconda manages some decent shocks, but the most impressive thing here is the cast. More to the point is the question of how on earth all these above-average actors got steamrolled into this reptilian train wreck of a film? Stoltz, as the leader of a team of documentary filmmakers searching for a lost Amazonian tribe, acquits himself admirably, though I suspect this may have much to do with the fact that his character is rendered comatose throughout 90% of the film. He should consider himself lucky. Cameraman Cube and director Lopez are left to carry on, as is Dallas native Wilson (Bottle Rocket), annoying Brit Hyde, and ex-MTV shill Wuhrer, plus assorted other victims-to-be. When the troupe, traveling down river by boat, chance upon a stranded Paraguayan snake-catcher by the name of Paul Sarone (Voight), they take him aboard with promises to put him ashore at the next village. Sarone will have none of that, though, and instead embarks on a suicidal mission to capture the legendary giant anaconda that haunts the riverbed, taking the filmmakers, against their better judgment, along for the ride. The only questions remaining are who gets the honor of becoming hors d'oeuvres first, and when does the nefarious Sarone get his? In the end, natch, and the scene is nicely shot, to boot, but that can't save the bloated Anaconda from chasing its tail for a good 90 minutes before the bad guys get regurgitated. Working with both life-size (40-foot-long) animatronic snakes and CGI animated ones, Steve Johnson's EFX team manages only a passable job, at best. Let's face it, folks, in a monster movie of this sort, the most important character is the monster, and if that doesn't look good, then the film dies on the spot. From its opening shots, Anaconda's beast looks like a hastily rendered computer graphic strung together with puppetry that makes old Muppet Show outtakes look downright Spielbergian by comparison. Cut-rate horror shows may have worked back when Roger Corman was making his way through the cinematic jungle primeval, but the days of using Glad Bags in lieu of Giant Leeches are long gone, or certainly should be. Charmless, unfrightening, and even devoid of the requisite gratuitous nudity, Anaconda just plain bites.