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Film review: Anaconda

Unintentionally funny flick is too cheesy, and the 'monster' isn't believable.

Published: Friday, April 11 1997 10:46 a.m. MDT

It's been quite awhile since we've had a good old-fashioned monster movie. And apparently it's going to be quite awhile longer.

"Anaconda" is one of those laughable turkeys that can be fun if you're in the mood to hoot at the screen and if you attend with a like-minded group of friends. But if you're looking for something scary or chilling, look elsewhere.

Loaded with camp dialogue to spare and a monster snake that looks too much like it came out of a computer instead of the Amazon, "Anaconda" is another major misstep for director Luis Llosa (who last gave us the overcooked Sylvester Stallone-Sharon Stone thriller "The Specialist").

The story has a group of documentary filmmakers traveling upriver in the Brazilian rain forest, and it's obvious that none of these people have seen "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" or "Jaws," or they'd behave differently.

The principals include cocky anthropologist Eric Stoltz, stiff-upper-lip British narrator Jonathan Hyde and the film crew, director Jennifer Lopez, cameraman Ice Cube, sound mixer Owen Wilson and production manager Kari Wuhrer.

They are searching for a mystical tribe of Indians known as the "people of the mist," snake worshipers. And they don't get too far in their dilapidated barge before coming upon stranded local Jon Voight, who claims he can take them to the tribe. But he's actually the Captain Ahab of this picture, seeking out the great white whale . . . er, the huge dark snake of the title. And he's not hesitant about using his fellow cast members as bait. (He's so mean he kills a monkey and throws it into the river on a hook.)

But Voight is not quite as ruthless as the snake, and Llosa takes full advantage of his computer-generated star as it swallows a few people whole. There's a shot of the snake swimming by with a human face pressed against its skin — from the inside! A scene where the reptile swallows someone whole, and then regurgitates him so he can strike again. And finally — my favorite — a shot from inside the snake's endless throat, as it prepares to go down on yet another human victim.

Yikes.

One of Llosa's problems is that he shows the monster too soon. We see the snake's first attack very early on, as it wraps itself around a panther and squeezes so hard one of the big cat's eyes pops out of its head.

But he gets no help from the screenplay's three writers, who throw in ridiculous dialogue with abandon. "It's no good to me dead," Voight shouts as his shipmates try to protect themselves. "Hey, is that real dynamite?" Wilson asks Voight as he unloads some explosives. The ultimate romantic, Wilson also asks Wuhrer, "Is it just me, or does the jungle make you really, really horny?" Apparently it does, as she seduces him when they go out into the jungle, just before being attacked in the night, of course.

Best — or worst — of all, however, is Voight, who juts out his jaw like a low-rent Billy Bob Thornton in "Sling Blade," adopts a sort of cajun "Godfather" accent and occasionally has his face partly in shadow to resemble another Brando character, Col. Kurtz in "Apocalypse Now." Close-ups of his perpetual sneer and a wink at the end tell us he realizes how horrible it all is and that perhaps he is the only who realizes it has reached the level of unintentional comedy.

While Lopez (who also stars in the current film "Selena") and Cube may, in the future, consider this an embarrassing step backward, Stoltz spends so much time below deck in a coma that the audience virtually forgets about him.

And my guess is that his future filmographies will forget all about this reptile turkey.

"Anaconda" is rated PG-13 violence, gore, profanity, vulgarity, sex, native nudity.

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