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The Hunt For The
Blood Orchid

Snakes. Why'd it have to be snakes?

Because then we could call this mildly entertaining adventure film a "sequel" to a surprisingly successful earlier movie about a giant snake. If you felt that Anaconda left some unanswered questions, however, be warned that the plot of that film gets dismissed early on as "urban legend." Since the first film strangely catapulted Jennifer Lopez into stardom, we only wish that were true. Here's hoping that if Anacondaseses gets made, Anacondas: The Hunt For The Blood Orchid will not be so similarly discarded.

Sssstanding on its own with a sssslightly borrowed title, this movie turns nature into a sssserial killer. Instead of ssssex-starved teens wandering in the woods, we have money-starved scientissssts floating down a river in Borneo. A pharmaceutical company has a lead on a chemical that could possssssssibly be a fountain of youth. The catch: it comes from the rare blood orchid, found, naturally, only in Borneo, blooming only once every sssseven years (apparently all at the same time) for six months. And they only have two weeks left to find a sssspecimen!

Does anybody else hear that hissing?

In between giant anaconda attacks that frighten even tigers in the opening sequence, the film works as a sort of jungle quest film. The group of scientists prove a diverse but two-dimensional lot. Because it's also coincidentally the rainy season, no reputable charter boat will travel upriver. Luckily, the roguish Captain Johnson (Johnny Messner) will take them on his rustbucket.

Calling him roguish is too kind. Messner plays Johnson pretty grimly, with the only twinkle in his eye reserved for his howler monkey, Kong. It's somehow refreshing, since Johnson tends to have the most pragmatic view of all the characters. Though possibly the hero, he doesn't even resort to clever one-liners. After all, life in the jungle is way too difficult to keep your ironic distance.

That falls to other characters, though most of the time the script's few chuckles come out of characterization rather than quips. Some might consider it amusing that the staff geek Cole (Eugene Byrd) is easily excitable. Then again, he has reason. Once the anacondas make themselves known, they are a pretty freaky sight, and at least twice as believable as the CG hyenas in Exorcist: The Beginning. As I am tired of horror movies featuring characters that have apparently never seen any other horror movies, hearing the obnoxious Dr. Ben Douglas (Nicholas Gonzalez) hum the theme to Jaws just before getting swallowed by a giant snake comes as a welcome twist.

Because if any of us ever get cornered by some sort of mutated freak of nature, our knowledge of horror films won't really help our escape. And, just as the characters do in this film, any friends we have with us will likely stand there screaming for about thirty seconds before running away as fast as they possibly can. Maybe you have braver friends.

So props go to a fairly clever script, written by several people including the team that wrote Robocop and Starship Troopers, Michael Miner and Edward Neumeier. No wonder it has touches that turn conventions upside down. Almost every time a character says or does something that smacks of cliché, another character calls him on it.

The direction, too, is serviceable. At the helm, Dwight H. Little has a decent sense of how to use overhead shots and other clever reveals without over-using them. Since he worked on some pretty effectively creepy television shows, like Millennium and John Doe, it shouldn't be surprising. On the flip side, the performances have that feel of "we've got to get it done in a week, people," that often plagues hour-long television. Everyone is stolid, but not necessarily that good.

Let that serve as the epitaph on Anacondas: The Hunt For The Blood Orchid. It's not necessarily that good, but it's also not that bad. True, it should have gone directly to video, but there are still bigger wastes of time in theaters this week.


Derek McCaw

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