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Reptile Tranquilizer

Anaconda
The Snaked Truth: Jennifer Lopez (armed) and the mother of all anacondas (coiled) get into a tussle as Ice Cube (flailing) loses his cool.

Boat-bound Amazon thriller leaves the title snake without a plot to hiss in

By Richard von Busack

SERIOUS BULLSHIT THAT IT IS, Anaconda at least does the audience the favor of recognizing the inherent nonsense of its premise without underscoring the point with gags, as Congo did. The movie is shamefaced, certainly; a character making a documentary delivers the line "This film was supposed to be my big break; it's turning out to be a disaster." Director Luis Llosa figured correctly that Jon Voight, as a Paraguyan Judas Priest, was enough ham for one movie. The rest of the characters in the jungle-boat ride hang back, 110 percent serious. Eric Stoltz (as a khaki-clad anthropologist) threatens to subvert the expedition by manfully paying little heed to a leg that was, he explains, gnawed on during "a small attack of piranha." Shortly thereafter, he drops out of the picture to nurse a tracheotomy--given to him on camera. Thanks, guys! Ice Cube's stolid cool as the crew's cameraman is a perfect reaction to a computer-animated snake.

Somewhere in Brazil, a group of filmmakers and their girlfriends (including Jennifer Lopez of Selena) have boated upstream to photograph a shy tribe of natives. Along the way, they pick up a shipwrecked weirdo (Voight) who pretends that he isn't looking for the dread anaconda, while secretly hoping to bring it back in chains to civilization. The anaconda, as a title card informs us, is sometimes worshipped by jungle tribes. Among all snakes, it is known for throwing up one meal just to eat another--the pig.

The computer-generated serpent--occasionally juiced by such props as a bottle labeled "reptile tranquilizer" and a pail of monkey blood--is the prize in this laughably empty package. Unfortunately, the snake doesn't have a plot to hiss in. There's no theme to Anaconda besides "don't play with giant serpents." The cast putters around on the river doing nothing for much of the movie. And it's hardly the river primeval either; Anaconda looks like it was filmed in Jungleland; you can see some smog over the horizon in the lagoon with the waterfall. The snake has no symbolic force; it's not there to punish the cast for tampering with matters they should have nothing to do with. The only lesson that Anaconda gives you is the inspiring one that you can work with fools and not be a fool yourself.

I was delighted by Voight at work with his "Paraguyan" accent (a softer version of Ricky Ricardo): "The snake will hold you tighter than your lover's embrace." At one point, trussed up with ropes, Voight literally outacts the entire cast with his hands tied behind his back. Voight, who will be 60 next year, is still virile enough that when he punches Ice Cube, Ice Cube looks sincerely punched. Voight telegraphs his true feelings about this turkey by holding his mouth in a lopsided scowl of disbelief like that look with which Popeye is always portrayed. He even steals the movie from the snake. Too bad Voight won't be around for the sequel (proposed title: Andanotheraconda). Everyone in "the industry" will tell you earnestly that it takes just as much work to make a bad movie as a good one. It must be true. The cast, crew and director of Anaconda toiled really hard to make a bad one.


Anaconda (PG-13; 90 min.), directed by Luis Llosa, written by Hans Bauer, Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr., photographed by Bill Butler and starring Jon Voight, Jennifer Lopez and Eric Stoltz.

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From the April 17-23, 1997 issue of Metro

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