When a rare orchid is revealed to hold the secret to eternal life, a scientific research team (including Morris Chestnut and Salli Richardson-Whitfield) is dispatched to retrieve samples. Heading to Borneo during monsoon season, the team hires a rogue captain (Johnny Messner) and his ship to take them up the river and to a potential billion-dollar discovery. But when greed replaces safety, the team is soon stranded in the middle of the jungle, with a sizable anaconda hunting them one-by-one to add to their troubles.
The low-tech "Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid" (IMDb listing) is the type of film made for direct-to-video release, so it's a miracle that it could make its way into theaters. What's even more astonishing is that, in a strange, small way, it's almost a good film. Almost.
A sequel (in name only) to the surprise 1997 hit, "Anaconda," the follow-up doesn't quite have the star power to ring any initial bells. Where there was once Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Owen Wilson, and Jon Voight (doing his best Tony Montana impression), the biggest name in "Anacondas" is Morris Chestnut. And if you haven't heard of Morris Chestnut, I envy you. Made seemingly over one long weekend for what looks like lunch money, director Dwight Little ("Free Willy 2," "Marked for Death") has his work cut out for him, unable to count on even the title beast, since any appearance by that CG creature only sucks money out of his tiny budget.
Well-versed in genre efficiency, Little makes the best lemonade he can with his lemons, sticking close to formula and light-hearted fun. He pulls some substantial adventure out of the jungle location. Crocodiles, spiders, leeches, and headhunting natives all make appearances, filling in for the considerable absence of the anaconda. The film plays even more like a Disneyland "Jungle Cruise" adventure than the original, if only because sweaty people talking about what they need to do to survive is a lot cheaper than showing it. The action is kept to a bare minimum, leaving large sequences where the cast just sits around and repeats everything twice to fill the running time. This gets old fast. To watch these characters is even more painful since the screenwriters (four are credited) could only come up with broad stereotypes for some of the roles, including a hat-askew, "Dawg"-spewing African American, and the classic sniveling, duplicitous Brit. To be fair, that's the type of writing that made the first film a success, but let's be honest: they had a better snake.
When the giant coiling thunder of death finally does factor into the film, the results are disappointing. "Anaconda" found a solid balance between an animatronic snake and a more fluid CG recreation. The sequel doesn't bother with anything practical, and the results aren't nearly as much fun as hoped. Only brief glimpses of the anaconda are allowed, which is fine given the quality of the effects, but it keeps the terror and the suspense muzzled. That's a shame.
Little saves his money shots for the ending, when a den of anacondas is revealed to the bumbling group and all hell breaks loose. But by this time the snake has become such a secondary character that it almost gets in the way of the adventure, which is exactly where this sequel goes wrong.
"Anacondas" is a passable ride for a B-movie, but sequels traditionally tend to build on what has come before. This film just makes everything appear smaller.
Filmfodder Grade: C+