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Friday, August 27, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
By Tom Keogh
In general, if moviegoers are willing to sit in the dark, staring at giant snakes that slither through brackish waters and which pop up to yank helpless souls below, we're pretty much in the realm of the subconscious. So "Anacondas," a sequel to the semifarcical 1997 "Anaconda," wisely prods not only ordinary phobias about big, bad serpents but also universal terrors of the dark, of narrow spaces, of drowning, of falling, of spiders and much more.
Unnerving and tongue-in-cheek, "Anacondas" is similar to "Anaconda," which boasted a fun cast (Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube) in an intentionally self-conscious, B-movie setting. Where "Anaconda" concerned a film crew getting picked off by a hungry snake, its follow-up begins with another doomed mission.
A team of scientists rushes to Borneo to find a fountain-of-youth orchid. They stand to make billions synthesizing its chemical formula, so there's not a lot of disagreement about traveling upriver in the rain on a broken-down boat skippered by a gruff, American expatriate, Bill (Johnny Messner). What they don't know is that anacondas eat the flower, allowing the beasts to live longer and grow (and grow).
For a while, director Dwight Little and the cast have fun stirring the pot as lone wolf Bill, determined leader Jack (Matthew Marsden), attractive assistant Sam (KaDee Strickland), and several others flirt and bicker while churning through rough waters. A disaster strands everyone in the forest, replacing dreams of vast wealth with basic survival instincts. Except for greedy Jack, that is, who turns out to be a snake in his own right.
The actors have a good time with outrageous echoes of bygone potboilers. Strickland keeps a straight face with such shopworn lines as "That's either the bravest or most stupid thing I've ever seen." Messner nails the obligatory scene in which his Bogart knock-off opens up about the troubles that led him to his Amazonian anonymity.
The anacondas themselves are used sparingly, opening other possibilities in psychological horror. In one memorable scene, a character is paralyzed by a spider bite while an anaconda sizes him up for lunch.
"Everything out here gets eaten," Bill says of the jungle. "Anacondas" has a way of driving that point home with primitive emotion.
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