Ridley Scott’s “Alien” (1979) was an instant success. So was James Cameron’s “Aliens” (1986). But there’s only so much the pluralizing of a title can do for a sequel.
Luis Llosa’s ridiculous 1997 giant-snake thriller, “Anaconda,” which was something less than an instant success, has now been followed by “Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid,” which will be lucky if it lasts in theaters past Labor Day.
At least the first one had an A-list cast: Jon Voight, Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Luke Wilson, Eric Stoltz. The only remotely recognizable face in the sequel belongs to Matthew Marsden, who played Paris in last year’s television mini-series, “Helen of Troy.”
This time Marsden has been cast as a greedy scientist named Jack, who takes his assistant and ex-girlfriend, Sam (KaDee Strickland), on a trip to Borneo to find a special orchid that promises near-immortality. Also along for this trip to the Fountain of Youth are several dispensable characters, including a hysterical black man who behaves like Butterfly McQueen.
Not all of them are eaten by the giant anacondas promised in the title, nor do they all succumb to headhunters, leeches, crocodiles, paralyzing spiders or primitive toilets. But by the time the movie reaches its halfway point, you may wish they had been — if only because that would make the movie shorter. At any rate, there’s hardly any suspense surrounding who gets devoured and who survives.
If a character walks across a shallow river and hums the theme from “Jaws,” for instance, it’s a fairly strong indication that he’s about to become a snack for something lurking in the water. And if a certain character turns utterly anti-social, betraying everyone else in the party and even allowing the murder of a companion, do you think the B-movie gods will spare him?
“Everything gets eaten out here; it’s a jungle,” says Bill Johnson (played with a Vin Diesel swagger by Johnny Messner), the hunky riverboat captain who is hired to take this crew along for a ride to inner Borneo. When his boat, the Bloody Mary, doesn’t survive a trip over a treacherous falls, the orchid-hunters are forced to make the rest of the trek on foot. They do, however, have their cellphones.
“Anacondas” was directed by Dwight Little, a specialist in sequels and spin-offs: “Halloween 4,” “Free Willy 2,” “Freddy’s Nightmares.” Half a dozen writers are credited with the story and script. In spite of all those cooks, there’s not a single surprise, though there are plenty of contrived shocks (an adorable pet monkey is responsible for a couple) and occasional homages (including a bitchy come-on stolen from Sigourney Weaver in “Aliens”).
The computer-generated snakes, in the tradition of “Anaconda,” look pretty hokey, almost cartoonish. What’s worse, their behavior makes almost no sense. Since the giant anacondas (and they are decidedly plural this time) seem to travel near the speed of light, why don’t they just wipe out the whole party at once? Then, of course, there would be no movie. Too bad. Not.