**½/**** Image B- Sound B-
starring Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Jon Voight, Eric Stoltz
screenplay by Hans Bauer and Jim Cash & Jack Epps, Jr.
directed by Luis Llosa
by Walter Chaw Almost worth it just for Jon Voight's post-regurgitation wink, Luis Llosa's B-movie creature-feature Anaconda is a deadpan riff on the nature-amuck flicks of the mid-Seventies in general and Steven Spielberg's Jaws in particular. (Cinematographer Bill Butler shot both films.) It borrows the Moby Dick conceit of a mad hunter forcing a hapless crew to take a personal vision quest against an aquatic foe and post-modernizes it with a passel of genre in-references, an unusually dry script, and a supporting cast of accomplished character actors. The only real failure of the film in respect to its modest aspirations, in fact, is the snake itself, a frankly awful CGI phantom that destroys the tension with its every appearance. It's hard to be afraid of a glorified screen-saver.
Dr. Cale (Eric Stoltz) is a NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC documentary filmmaker travelling up the Amazon with his cameraman (Ice Cube), producer and girlfriend (Jennifer Lopez), soundman (Owen Wilson), production manager (Kari Wuher), and front-of-camera talent (Jonathan Hyde) in tow. Hiring the services of a riverboat captain (Vincent Castellanos) channelling the grizzled shade of Humphrey Bogart circa The African Queen, the crew makes the mistake of allowing mad snake-hunter Sarone (Voight) aboard, promptly finding themselves embroiled in a plot to capture a vengeful forty-foot anaconda.
Voight's performance is one for the ages, a deliriously perverse turn that joins Olivier's evil dentist and Voight's own irredeemable baddie from Runaway Train in the rogue wing of the Bad Accent Hall of Fame. As unafraid to offer gruesome shocks as dreadfully leaden monologues, Anaconda's gore highlights come in a makeshift Bic tracheotomy following a scuba respirator-launched-sting from a deadly South American wasp and, of course, the aforementioned upchucking of Sarone. Though it seems initially as if Llosa will wisely keep the creature from view throughout (its point-of-view menace throughout the earlygoing courtesy Butler's water-level eye), the second the snake appears in all its digital glory, any pretense of real fright falls by the wayside.
Voight's performance alone is absurd enough to merit the film a look (it reminds in its alien fervour of Nicolas Cage's turn in Vampire's Kiss); Anaconda is his as soon as he appears, rendering moot the stunning predictability of the kills and false alarms. Regardless, the picture is so jokey and well-heeled (and that titular monster is so fake) that there's just not much in the way of genuine suspense, locating Anaconda several degrees superior to, but ultimately just as forgettable as, the patronizing Lake Placid and the mean-spirited Deep Blue Sea. Originally published: September 30, 2002.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers The Sony perennial Anaconda reaches Blu-ray a lot later than I thought it would, in a presentation a lot lamer than I expected: The 2.40:1, 1080p image is soft, flat, and frankly not much better than the Superbit DVD upconverted to HD, while the accompanying 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio is sorely lacking in oomph--consistently. On the (literal) bright side, the transfer does bring out more latitude in Bill Butler's cinematography, though it also makes the CGI look even staler and chintzier. Wait for the clearance bin to upgrade this one, folks. HiDef trailers for The Da Vinci Code's extenda-mix (which cues up automatically on startup in addition to availing itself under the previews menu), The Grudge, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and Hellboy round out the otherwise-unsupplemented disc. Originally published: May 25, 2009.