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The Anaconda Series

Anaconda (December 20/08)

Though infused with a palpable (and downright unapologetic) B-movie atmosphere, Anaconda never quite lives up to the promise of its admittedly irresistible set-up - as screenwriters Hans Bauer, Jim Cash, and Jack Epps Jr bog the proceedings down with a myriad of hopelessly dull sequences in which thinly-drawn characters essentially wait for something to happen. It's subsequently not surprising to note that the film ultimately boils down to a whole lot of nothing punctuated by a few decent snake kills, with the oddly deliberate pace and emphasis on hoary cliches proving instrumental in cementing Anaconda's lamentable downfall. The storyline follows a ragtag film crew (which includes Jennifer Lopez's Terri, Ice Cube's Danny, and Owen Wilson's Gary) as they're forced to battle the title creature while stranded on the Amazon River, with complications ensuing as it becomes clear that the mysterious man (Jon Voight's Paul) they picked up along the way is almost as dangerous as the anaconda itself. It's a serviceable premise that could've (and should've) been employed as a springboard for a fun, creature-featuresque romp, yet the film remains curiously dull and uninvolving for the majority of its running time - despite the inclusion of a few gleefully campy elements (ie Voight's absurdly over-the-top, flat-out ridiculous performance). Aside from the aforementioned (and all-too-infrequent) death scenes, there's simply nothing here to hold the viewer's interest on a consistent basis and it's ultimately impossible to view Anaconda as anything more than a missed opportunity (although, with its laughable special effects and Voight's go-for-broke turn, it's not difficult to see why the film has gained a minor cult following over the years).

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Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (January 5/09)

Though far from excellent, Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid nevertheless represents a significant improvement over its lackluster predecessor - as the film boasts a tongue-in-cheek, unapologetically campy sensibility that ultimately carries it through its dull spots. The storyline follows the gung-ho members of a scientific expedition (including KaDee Strickland's Sam, Matthew Marsden's Jack, and Eugene Byrd's Cole) as they travel deep into the heart of Borneo's jungles to retrieve a valuable flower with life-altering properties, though the campaign - led by the grizzled Bill Johnson (Johnny Messner) - is inevitably thwarted after several vicious anacondas arrive on the scene. There's not a lot more to Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid than that, admittedly, and it goes without saying that the whole thing generally plays out precisely as one might've expected. The inclusion of several light-hearted interludes, however, ensures that film remains fairly watchable from start to finish, although it's hard to deny that the uneventful midsection - seemingly devoted entirely to arguments, double-crosses, and various other pointless character-building encounters - does prove a test to the viewer's patience. Messner's almost comically stoic work is clearly a highlight - his character wrestles a crocodile, for crying out loud - while Byrd's panicky-black-guy schtick becomes tiresome right from the get-go. In the end, Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid lives up to its place as an utterly disposable bit of forgettable entertainment - which is, admittedly, pretty much all one can ask out of an entry from a series such as this.

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Anaconda 3: Offspring (January 19/09)

It's not surprising to note that Anaconda 3: Offspring immediately establishes itself as the weakest entry within this ongoing series, as the film boasts many of the problems and deficiencies one generally associates with the direct-to-video scene - including laughable special effects, underwhelming performances, and a storyline that's far from compelling. The movie - which, in a rare move for these types of endeavors, actually acts as a direct sequel to its immediate predecessor - revolves around the chaos that ensues after several blood-orchid-enhanced snakes escape from a top-secret laboratory, thus forcing a shady businessman (John Rhys-Davies' Murdoch) to enlist the services of grizzled mercenary Hammett (David Hasselhoff) and his various cohorts. It's the sort of set-up that would seem to naturally lend itself to a campy, unapologetically over-the-top bit of escapism, yet director Don E. FauntLeRoy - he of such underwhelming DTV fare as Today You Die and Urban Justice - has infused the proceedings with a number of questionable stylistic touches that only exacerbate the inherently low-rent atmosphere. There's consequently never a point at which Anaconda 3: Offspring becomes the guilty pleasure it so desperately wants to be, as Hasselhoff's admittedly compelling performance is consistently negated by the ineffectiveness of everything around him - with the pervasively shoddy computer-generated creature work certainly ranking high on the film's list of incompetent elements. The final insult comes with a conclusion that blatantly leaves the door open for yet another installment, which - given that Hasselhoff is unlikely to reprise his role - is sure to fare even more poorly than this tedious and entirely needless follow-up.

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Anacondas: Trail of Blood (May 31/09)

It's relatively surprising to note that Anacondas: Trail of Blood marks a minor improvement over its nigh disastrous predecessor, as the movie boasts a handful of better-than-expected performances and an opening hour that's actually kind of watchable. The film essentially picks up where Anaconda 3: The Offspring left off and follows John Rhys-Davies' Murdoch as he attempts to procure the blood-orchid serum that could potentially save his life, with the dying millionaire's efforts consistently confounded by the ravenous snakes roaming the jungle and the myriad of disparate figures whose respective fates are now intertwined with his. Director Don E. FauntLeRoy - working from a script by David C. Olson - initially does an effective job of infusing Anacondas: Trail of Blood with the feel of a slasher flick, as the superficially-developed characters are knocked off one at a time by the increasingly vicious super-snakes. The unabashedly campy atmosphere is perpetuated by almost every aspect of the production, with the jaw-droppingly shoddy special effects work and laughable instances of dialogue certainly ranking high on the film's list of overtly incompetent elements. And while the strong work from several of the movie's actors (especially Crystal Allen, Linden Ashby, and Danny Midwinter) ensures that the viewer can't help but root for protagonists' ongoing success, there comes a point at which Cooper plum runs out of things for his characters to do - with much of Anacondas: Trail of Blood's final third following the survivors as they wander around the jungle aimlessly. The lamentably stagnant vibe inevitably destroys the good will built up by the film's silly yet acceptable first half, and it's ultimately clear that both Offspring and Trail of Blood - reportedly shot back-to-back - would have been better off if they'd been edited down into one movie.

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About the DVDs: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents Anaconda 3: Offspring and Anacondas: Trail of Blood with anamorphically-enhanced transfers, although bonus features are non-existent (there are, however, a whole batch of trailers for other Sony releases).
© David Nusair