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Dustin Putman

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The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (2004)


Directed by Dwight Little
Cast: Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Johnny Messner, KaDee Strickland, Matthew Marsden, Eugene Byrd, Morris Chestnut, Karl Yune, Nicholas Gonzalez, Andy Anderson, Nicholas Hope, Denis Arndt
2004 – 90 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, August 27, 2004.

1997's "Anaconda" was a cheesy, slick B-movie that had fun with its premise of a documentary film crew being terrorized by a very big snake, succeeding by never pretending to be anything more than a silly popcorn entertainment. It also featured an impressive cast of rising A-listers—Jennifer Lopez, Owen Wilson, Ice Cube—and one deliciously over-the-top standout in human villain Jon Voight that raised it above the throwaway level. With no apparent connection to its predecessor, a cast made up mostly of talentless unknowns, and an out-of-place tone far too serious for its wholly ludicrous plot, "Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid" is both excessively unnecessary and thoroughly worthless. The original may not have been great, but it sometimes takes a truly awful motion picture to uncover another film's qualities.

Hidden deep in the Borneo jungle is the Blood Orchid, an extremely rare flower that blooms once every seven years and holds the key to eternal life. Seeing a chance to create a product that would be "bigger than Viagra," a group of entrepreneurs and scientists set out on the jungle river to recover the flower. Before they can find it, however, their boat capsizes over a waterfall and they are left stranded in the wilderness. The ragtag team soon realize they are not alone. Lurking all around them are lethal, hungry Anaconda snakes, who guard the Blood Orchids and have been made giant by their extended lives.

Suffering through the superfluously-titled "Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid," it would be understandable to pose the following question to oneself: "Who wrote this asinine junk?" While the presence of a screenwriter is clear—no automated, unscripted movie, even a low-rent creature feature, could feature such an absurd premise—what does boggle the mind is the participation of four writers (John Claflin, Daniel Zelman, Michael Miner, Edward Neumeier). Did they intentionally sit around day in and day out, concocting the most tediously drawn-out and creatively pedestrian of horror sequels, or is the lowly finished product merely a freak accident on the part of hacks with grade-school abilities? Either way, "Anacondas" is a virtual rehash of "Anaconda," minus the former film's wickedly sly sensibilities, taut pacing, and passable suspense.

For a film supposedly about robust killer snakes, "Anacondas" even fails on fulfilling the expectations to see lots of slithering reptiles. With a mild, flavorless PG-13 rating that bars any of the deaths from being shown and the shots of the snakes nearly matching the amount already seen in the theatrical trailer, the viewer is left malnourished from what they came to see and never got. When the Anacondas are shown, they are bereft of the threatening personality they had in the original, waterlogged by the chintziest, most slapdash CG effects to grace a studio picture this year. Incredibly, filmmaker Dwight Little (a frequent television director also responsible for 1988's respectable "Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers") donates roughly 75 percent of his interminable 90-minute running time with hoary exposition and dialogue, treating his hopelessly wafer-thin characters as if they were being played by performers who could actually act and carry scenes by themselves. They can't, and what is left is a pace equal to that of a dead snail.

While not sharing identical names, all of the characters feel like replacements for the 1997 actors. As scientist and head of the expedition, Gail Stern, Salli Richardson-Whitfield (2002's "Antwone Fisher") is the poor man's Jennifer Lopez and, in certain scenes, a dead ringer for the Latino star. As the stubborn but eventually moralistic Gordon Mitchell, Morris Chestnut (2004's "Breakin' All the Rules") has the Ice Cube role. Richardson-Whitfield and Chestnut, the only veterans of the ensemble, are at least tolerable. Johnny Messner (2004's "The Whole Ten Yards"), as hunky, muscled tough guy Bill Johnson, is beyond amateurish in his sincere but unbelievable line deliveries. As virtuous Sam Rogers, KaDee Strickland (2003's "Something's Gotta Give")—in the Kari Wuhrer part—starts the film off with a laugh-inducingly thick Southern accent and then promptly loses it altogether by the second act. Like Strickland's promise as a thespian, her twang never returns. Almost as bad and easily more forgettable are Matthew Marsden (2001's "Black Hawk Down")—no match for Jon Voight—as the slimy, money-hungry Dr. Jack Byron, and Eugene Byrd (2002's "8 Mile")—an amalgamation of Ice Cube's and Owen Wilson's parts—as token black comic relief Cole Burris.

Save for a couple unintentional guffaws near the beginning, "Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid" doesn't even fall into the "so bad it's entertaining" category. It is a chore to sit through, as unscary, threadbare, and downright dull as these kinds of movies come. If it were not for the box-office success of its precursor, there is no doubt it would have gone direct-to-video next to similar giant-snake schlock like 2002's "Boa" and 2000's ironically superior "Python." "Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid" scrapes the bottom of the barrel and then digs lower without even trying (director Dwight Little plainly didn't), making one long for weeks' past when the mediocre "Alien vs. Predator" and "Exorcist: The Beginning" were released. When you go to see a film about huge, deadly snakes and the sickeningly precocious monkey who tags along on the humans' trip gets more screen time than the reptilian villains—and lives to see the end credits, no less— you know you're in trouble.
© 2004 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman