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Life has been squeezed out of `Anacondas'

Oh, anaconda! The last time we heard from that sweaty jungle snake it was trying to have its way with Ice Cube, Eric Stoltz, Owen Wilson, Kari Wuhrer, Danny Trejo, and a pre-diva J. Lo back in the spring of 1997. Mmmm, boy, the movie was tasty, and I'm sure the people the snake could catch tasted really good, too, especially nutty Jon Voight, who was scarier than the snake and probably had a flavor reminiscent of a boiled ham.

Yes, "Anaconda" was enjoyable garbage about a National Geographic film crew and the snake that ate it. They were led down the Amazon by Voight's crazy, Paraguayan anacondaholic, who was the mutant offspring of Robert Shaw in "Jaws," Marlon Brando in "Apocalypse Now," and a lot of Wild Turkey. As was the movie.

You might notice I haven't said a word about that movie's successor, "Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid." There's nothing really wrong with it -- it's bad,
but no worse than it needs to be, which is the problem. Where the first movie had a fragrant odor, the smell, say, of Lysol sprayed in a gas station bathroom, "Anacondas" actually stinks. Here a bunch of scientists and venture capitalists head to Borneo to snatch up the precious blood orchid, which happens to contain a "chemical that can significantly prolong cellular life." With the flower, these arrogant young punks stand to make a fortune. Without it, it's presumably back to temping or to the greeter spot at Anthropolo-
gie. In Borneo, the gang of four men and two women hire someone to take them through the swamp and the seasonal torrential downpours to the flower, which blooms for only a few weeks every seven years. (Like "Anaconda" sequels?) Predictably, the tumbledown boat meets its end over a waterfall, leaving the gang likely to be mauled by one of the dozens of snakes in town to mate. That's right: They're huge, they're hungry, they're horny.

"Anacondas," directed by Dwight H. Little, follows the trend of turning horror movies into game shows and obstacle courses. Accordingly, most of the cast members, including Morris Chestnut and Salli Richardson-
Whitfield, look like personal trainers, and our muscled riverboat king (Johnny Messner) makes a fine fitness director. Someone even remarks that hiking in the jungle is like "doing the Stair-
Master in a sauna." The movie lacks a Jon Voight or an Owen Wilson or even a fun ditz like Kari Wuhrer. Instead, we get this bunch of studs and hotties -- some whites and blacks, one Latin and an Asian; they're not a cast so much as the racial equivalent of snake-baiting trail mix. And look out for the Brit, whose accent is so dastardly there's no way it's real. Other than Eugene Byrd, who steals the movie as a nerdy, normal-looking technician, these folks are so money-grubbing, vain, and unsympathetic that it's surprisingly easy to root for the snakes. Bon appetit, boys.

Wesley Morris can be reached at

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