Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?
Indiana Jones might ask that of "Anaconda." The answer is, it didn't. It could have been anything. "Velociraptor." "Shark." "Piranha." "Limbaugh." This is such a formula monster movie that it could have been made 40 years ago, without the computer-generated reptiles.
Jennifer Lopez goes from "Selena" to snake bait as the star of this forlorn flick. She's a documentary director who joins up with guide Eric Stoltz and cameraman-rapper Ice Cube to locate and film a shy tribe in the Amazon jungle. These three are likable, but they are unable to give a third dimension to their characters when the script explains nothing, including a puzzling romantic history between Stoltz and Lopez.
They and their hastily sketched companions -- it's easy to tell which of them will be snake food and which won't -- take off up the dangerous Amazon River on a boat complete with multiple stereos and a place to practice golf drives. (In the absurd tradition of Gilligan's crew, they do not pack lightly.)
They soon rescue a stranded snake hunter (Jon Voight), who turns out to be obsessed with capturing a giant anaconda. Why he's obsessed isn't clear, and Voight gives such a goofy performance that it's hard to take him seriously as a villain, even when he's leering at the women and killing people left and right.
Stoltz, lucky for him, is unconscious during most of the movie. While he's counting sheep and his paycheck, his friends run into a gigantic snake with an appetite for documentary filmmakers.
They aren't very clever about stopping it, of course, and drag themselves mechanically through one gory snake attack after another (though, as an obnoxious Brit, Jonathan Hyde gets points for trying). They might as well be wearing signs saying: "Remove plastic. Microwave for three minutes. Serve to snake."
As for the snake, it terrorizes, it eats, it regurgitates entire people. There are a few impressive moments when the snake swallows folks, head-first, but most of the time its antics are laughable. Alas, "Anaconda" isn't campy enough to be pleasurable, and it's no "African Queen." Help! one thinks. A giant cartoon is eating the actors! If I were one of them, I'd want to be unconscious too.
Starring Jennifer Lopez and Jon Voight
Directed by Luis Llosa
Released by Columbia Pictures
Rated PG-13 (violence, gore)
Sun score *
Pub Date: 4/11/97