" I don’t want to cross the line, Lou; I just want to move it "
— Dustin Hoffman, Mad City

MRQE Top Critic

November

Walks you out of an emotional underworld back into the light —Marty Mapes (review...)

Cox lives three times in November

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I was looking forward to Anaconda. The previews looked good. The subject matter was potentially scary. It had Ice Cube, who is an interesting personality, if not a great actor. It even got a favorable review from Roger Ebert.

I was disappointed.

After an introductory scene showing the strength, stealth, and terror of (movie) anacondas, we meet the main characters: a film crew in search of a reclusive tribe of South American aborigines. The crew is just underway on their barge when they encounter Paul (John Voight), whose boat has gotten stuck. They take him on board.

It turns out that Paul is a poacher specializing in snakes. He claims to have met the reclusive tribe and offers to guide the film crew to their location. Some of the crew don’t trust the creepy man.

Eventually, the crew encounters a huge anaconda with an attitude who starts picking them off, one by one.

As you can tell, the plot is not very original. Replace the snake with a vampire or a swamp thing or a ghost and you have a movie that you have probably seen many times before. So what’s different about Anaconda? What does it have to offer? Not much, but here goes.

First, there are some good tilted camera shots that give an uneasy feeling about what’s going on on-screen. Second, I like Ice Cube. I won’t say he’s a great actor, but he’s fun to watch. Third, there is a scene where I started to write that the character fell for the obvious double-cross — another stupid cliché — when it turned out to be a triple-cross. Nice touch. Fourth, there is a wonderfully disgusting scene of one of the actors regurgitated from the snake.

Most everything else was boring or bad.

When the characters were introduced, each was an exaggerated caricature. There’s the producer (Eric Stoltz) and the director (Jennifer Lopez) who just happen to identify each other’s job title in their conversation. Most of us could have figured this out without “I wanted only the BEST DIRECTOR (hint, hint, wink) I could find.” There’s the production manager (Kari Wuhrer) and the sound man (Owen Wilson) who just happen to identify each other’s job title in their conversation (as if the clipboard and the microphone didn’t give them away). Then there’s the “talent” (Johnathan Hyde) who is an uptight prick. We could have learned about this character flaw when he started driving golf balls, sipping wine, and turning his nose up at rap music on the jungle river. But lest we miss that point, the screenwriters (Hans Bauer, Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr.) have him ask the first woman he sees to carry his bags. Duh. We got it already.

The movie makes a lot of other mistakes, and when it does, it errs on the side of obtuseness. For example, two characters are alone in the jungle in the dark. They comment on all the beautiful natural jungle sounds. But on the soundtrack, there is music, too. When the jungle noise stops and the characters remark on the shock of the utter silence, the violins are still playing their tense chords. Here’s a clue. Unless your Luis Buñuel or Ed Wood, when someone on screen says “listen to the silence” (or “my, what a red wall”), there should be silence (or the wall should be red).

And of course, to round out the adolescent worldview of the movie, there is cheesy dialog. Here are some examples in no particular order. “You and whose army?” “Yo mama’s.” “This river can kill you in a thousand ways.” “I was up all night picking leeches off my scrotum.”

I had high hopes for Anaconda. I suppose if I were a 13-year old boy, I would have enjoyed this movie, but there’s nothing in it for adults. It’s as if Llosa assumed none of us would be interested in seeing his movie. That may have been a self-fulfilling prophecy.