For supreme, cheesy, god-awful goodness, it’s the ridiculous giant animatronic snakes vs. the ridiculous giant hamminess of Jon Voight that give Anaconda its kick from start to finish. Inflicted upon audiences in 1997, this entertainingly terrible Moby Dick and Jaws rip-off sends cast members Jennifer Lopez, Eric Stoltz, Ice Cube and Owen Wilson adrift – "Deep In the Amazon," a title announces – where they, as a pack of documentary filmmakers, are off to film their search for a legendary tribe of rainforest dwellers.
Things don’t go quite as they’ve been penciled out. "Is it just me or does the jungle make you really, really horny?," asks stoned-looking sound man Wilson aboard the jungle-bound boat. He hungrily eyeing his production assistant main squeeze Kari Wurhrer, who apparently concurs because we soon see her hip-snaking silhouette against a window curtain while dancing a hot salsa for her fellow crewmates.
Did the blazingly sensual Lopez, who spends lots of time in wet t-shirts, refuse? At least that makes a nice change from shirtless captain Vincent Castellanos’s constant male stripper-type posing, let alone from cameraman Ice Cube’s perpetual scowl and his meant-to-be-hip throwaways like, "Get me back to L.A." and "Yo mama." Since the early stretch of the movie offers little but beautiful Bill Butler cinematography, portentous South American musical themes and a screenplay offering the actors zero in the way of character development, we’re totally grateful for the arrival of highly suspicious snake expert Voight. Having apparently sized-up his cast members as lacking in the chops-and-charisma department, the former Oscar winner gives one of filmdom's wackiest mow-'em-down-and-bury-'em performances, popping his peepers, pursing his lips and alternately yelling or muttering his lines in what sounds like a shout-out to Ricky Ricardo.
On hearing that Voight had once ditched the priesthood, smug National Geographic documentarian Stoltz asks, "What is your calling?" Voight spits back, "Snakes." Soon, though, Stoltz barely survives a savage attack and spends most of the flick’s running time in bed with a fever – a shrewd move considering the nonsense that awaits his co-stars who get running through soundstage jungles, swimming in studio tanks and over-acting like fury as they are attacked and chomped to pieces by all sorts of creepy crawlers. When pilot Castellanos dramatically bites the dust and suspicion points toward Voight, he says, "Please people, don’t make me out a monster. I didn’t eat the captain." Argues Wuhrer, "I'm not so sure he didn’t eat the captain. He sure looks satiated." No, doll, Voight looks satiated from all the scenery he’s chomping while the snakes do the same.
There's a howler of a moment when a snake attaches itself to the digits of prissy Brit Jonathan Hyde, who, sounding like Family Guy’s Stewie, wails, "Somebody get this bloody thing off my fucking hand!" It's snake charmer Voight to the rescue, who detaches the reptile and hurls it overboard, saying, "Later, sweetie." Soon Voight proclaims that it’s a 40-foot, screaming, completely unconvincing-looking animatronic anaconda that will decimate the remaining crewmembers, prompting smolderingly sexy documentary director Lopez to scoff in intense Bronx-ese, "Snakes don’t eat people." Au contraire, says Voight, explaining the anaconda is "a perfect killing machine. They strike, wrap around you, hold tighter than your true love, then you get the privilege of hearing your bones break before the power of their embrace causes your brain to explode."
Your brain may do likewise, especially when Voight announces that he intends to capture for a reward the humungous serpent and, despite all logic, Wilson’s character throws in with him, telling his shipmates: "If we help him catch the snake, then he’ll help us get out of here alive. And that, amigos is not sanity, that is common freakin’ sense." Actually, it’s neither, but, happily, sanity and sense aren’t on the menu in Anaconda. As the jungle adventures turn increasingly Predator-like and actor after actor utterly embarrasses himself, it falls to Hyde to deliver a knee-slapper: "The last time I was in water like this, I was up all night picking leeches off my scrotum."
The last third of the flick goes completely wacky, with Lopez being forced to vamp and kiss Voight and to muse, without a jot of irony, "I don’t know if you know, but this film was supposed to be my big break. It’s turned out to be a big disaster." And this she confesses, even before Voight has roped and tied her to Ice Cube, doused them with monkey blood and left them to fight off an anaconda onslaught. Hang on for the oh-no-they-didn’t moment when the big snake gobbles Voight, who gets spat out and favors Lopez with a big wink. Sure, there’s plenty of intentional, over-the-top humor here but the crazier stuff is completely unintentional. Anaconda slithered in and out of theaters with some $70 million in ticket sales and the tagline that read: "When you can’t breathe, you can’t scream." But, let’s face it, when’re laughing your head off, that’s way better than a scream any old day. (The movie spawned three sequels and two made-for-TV features that are nowhere near as funny.)