2004's Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid is pretty fucking dumb. So what? 1997's Anaconda is also pretty fucking dumb, and is nevertheless one of the most entertaining creature features of its decade. But there is one extremely important difference between the two films: Anaconda had Jon Voight giving one of the most unapologetically ludicrous performances that I have ever seen, and while his not the solitary pleasure that the film has to offer, he's what pushes it into the heights of robust camp. The closest that The Hunt for the Blood Orchid comes to having name actors is Morris Chestnut and KaDee Strickland, who aren't even up to the level of Jennifer Lopez, Eric Stoltz, Ice Cube, and pre-fame Owen Wilson, let alone the slumming magnificence of Voight's weathered Paraguayan game hunter.

This of course puts the sequel at a disadvantage that it could not possibly overcome, but just to be sure, the movie goes one further, and removes the other actual strength of the original film. Unsurprisingly, given the 2004 release date, this movie has no practical snake effects: all of its anacondas are CGI effects, and they're even uglier than the shitty CGI from the first movie. The filmmakers have had the good sense to realise this, and compensate by showing us the snakes as little as possible. Which is better than showing them all the time, I suppose, and thereby robbing the animals of any power as a threat. At the same time, we enter a movie called Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid with basically one hope, and once the strategy "try not to show the anacondas" has been read into the record, there's damn little chance of that hope being fulfilled.

Other than an elliptical reference in dialogue, this is a completely unrelated sequel, taking place in a whole different hemisphere than the first movie. The film's opening scene sets the stage by showing a groups of indigenous hunters evading a tiger with quick wits and bravery, only to witness in terror the very large unseen something that was chasing that tiger. "Egads!" the film seems to want us to think, "we have a creature that can scare both a tiger, and men who are brave enough not to be scared of a tiger? It must be terrifying!" Me, all I could think was "...but there's no rainforest that includes both anacondas and tigers." And it turns out to be even better than that: the action takes place on Borneo (played by Fiji), an island that has neither anacondas nor tigers. I permitted myself the hope that this would turn out to be a plot twist, and we'd eventually find out what nefarious human actor transplanted the snakes across the Pacific Ocean from their native habitat in South America, but nope, that's just how much the film's four screenwriters hold their audience in contempt.

Anyway, what brings us to Borneo is a mission financed by Wexel Hall, a U.S. pharmaceutical company. Recently, Dr. Jack Byron (Matthew Marsden) was able to run tests on sample of a rare plant, the blood orchid, which seems to suggest that, taken medicinally, the plant may be able to prevent cell aging - in effect, conferring ageless immortality. "It'll be bigger than viagra!" Jack enthuses at one point, and later upgrades that to "the biggest thing since penicillin". No, it would in fact be bigger than every scientific advance made since the dawn of agriculture, but the characters persist in thinking about it in the smallest terms possible.

The team traveling with Jack is an indistinct cluster of scientists with little obvious differentiation in their roles; presumably, this is so they can  be readily swapped out in the event of death by giant monster. Gail Stern (Salli Richardson-Whitfield) is the Wexel Hall corporate representative on hand, and I think Gordon Mitchell (Chestnut) is her aide, or something; Sam Rogers (Strickland) is Jack's former student, and as Gail obnoxiously but correctly suggests, her presence here is as much because Jack is hoping to make it with her, as because he believes in her abilities. Cole Burris (Eugene Byrd) is there to provide a '40s-style easily-scared black man, and when Dr. Ben Douglas Nicholas Gonzalez) introduces himself, he all but says in so many words that he's just there to inflate the body count. And then, of course, there's the grizzled locals who take this crew of dopey scientists and executives into the jungle: Bill Johnson (Johnny Messner), a gruff American ex-pat who operates a river boat and Tran Wu (Karl Yune), his co-pilot.

That's eight main characters to throw at the snakes, and in a perfect encapsulation at how lousy The Hunt for the Blood Orchid is as a creature feature, no fewer than four of them live to see the end credits. But that's to be expected, I suppose, given the way that the film's plot keeps its anacondas as a shadowy, unseen presence for the bulk of the running time. They're just not around enough to do a proper job of picking off the cast, one by one. Besides, they don't have personalities enough to be killers, and this is one of the film's great failures as a creature feature. Maybe this is the issue with having Anacondas: it turns them into a mass of animals, rather than a single, specific foe to vanquish.

This is part of what turns the film into a survival thriller, more than a killer animal movie. It's perfectly functional, as far as that goes: it follows an interesting strategy of shifting focus across several of its main characters (primarily Gail, Bill, and Sam), so that it never ends up being a story of a single hero, but of a group effort to make it out of the jungle, once they get in deep enough to realise that finding the orchid is a hopeless cause, and escaping the impossibly large anacondas becomes the main priority. It's a retread of several of the general beats of Anaconda, though of course that film was already a retread of films that came before it. It suffers, much more than the first one, of having a distinct samey-ness to the scenes and locations, with a stopover at an abandoned native village that offers the only real flavor across the whole of the river journey. And that flavorlessness extends to the cast, who feel like a smudgy blog. Jack turns out to be the human villain (fulfilling the Evil Brit trope that the first film took care to avoid), so he's at least possible to differentiate from the rest at that point, but neither the writing nor the performance gives any of the characters sufficiently distinctive identities, except for Cole, whose identity is irritating and unlikable.

The film's not a complete washout: the location shoot was worth the money, and while director Dwight H. Little and cinematographer Stephen F. Windon don't do much to augment the oppressive, murky closeness of the trees, but they also don't do anything to actively ruin it. But it offers precious little of the fun that a B-movie is supposed to: the characters are cyphers, and the snakes, what little we see of them, are simply dreadful. The film goes through its paces without a scrap of joy, stretching its 97 minutes out to the point of abject boredom, and offering  far too little trashy horror-adventure fun beyond the basics of making a bunch of Americans tromp through tropical rainforests and get attacked by bass-heavy musical stings. It's probably not that bad, but if it's going to see fit to sully the good name of Anaconda by replacing its hammy kitsch with empty genre boilerplate, I have no inclination to give it any benefit of the doubt.

Reviews in this series
Anaconda (Llosa, 1997)
Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (Little, 2004)
Anaconda 3: Offspring (FauntLeRoy, 2008)
Anacondas: Trail of Blood (FauntLeRoy, 2009)