A PG-13 rating squeezes the life out of Anacondas.

Dinner is served: For better or worse, only some - people die this time around.
Dinner is served: For better or worse, only some people die this time around.
It should go without saying that when one goes to see a movie about giant killer snakes, the main point of the whole endeavor is to watch people get eaten by giant killer snakes. Hardly rocket science, that. But while Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid does feature a decent handful of deaths, they're generally either quick, silhouetted, or shown at a great distance. Gotta keep that rating down -- it wouldn't do to tell your teenager that he's not allowed to watch the serpents doing what they do best.

Then again, the film's predecessor, 1997's Anaconda, was also PG-13, yet it had some decent acts of violence, including a tracheotomy by ballpoint pen and Jon Voight being swallowed and regurgitated by the eponymous reptile. The MPAA is of course subjective in its calls, but either they were asleep at the wheel on part one or just in a Janet Jackson-induced spasm of sensitivity this time around. There are more snakes now, as the title suggests, but these filmmakers just don't seem to have the same deranged imagination as those who came before.

There's one thing they do get right, though. Every horror-film director is usually quoted in the press kit as saying something like, "We took the extra time to create characters you could really care about, so that it's genuinely frightening when they die." Most recently, Paul W.S. Anderson said words to that effect about Alien vs. Predator; turned out that, like most, he was full of crap. But director Dwight Little, who has made many mediocre films as well as the gleefully gory Robert Englund version of The Phantom of the Opera (a personal fave), gets it right -- he really does take time to establish the characters. We don't like all of them, but by the time the snakes show up, each and every human being has become distinct and identifiable, despite the fact that, except for Morris Chestnut, the actors are pretty much unknowns. This is a far cry from the first Anaconda, which featured Jon Voight pretending to be Latino, Ice Cube not even trying to play a character, and Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson clearly and gloriously mocking the material they were given. There's still an element of camp, for sure, but nothing as entertaining as Voight, who really should have been brought back. So his character's dead, so what? These films don't bother making sense anyway, and Voight comes cheap.

In case you couldn't be bothered to read the movie's full title, the plot this time concerns the hunt for a rare flower, the blood something-or-other. Actually, its highly technical name is Perrinia immortalis -- knowing that, you'd think someone would have figured out sooner that it produces an anti-aging chemical, but no, apparently Morris Chestnut is the first human on the planet to decipher the cunningly concealed meaning of its Latin name. Actually, it isn't really much of a hunt, as Morris knows where the flower is: Borneo. The catch is that it's only going to grow for two more weeks, after which it shuts down for seven years. And it's monsoon season. We will later learn that it's snake-mating season too. Ain't that a bitch?

In reality, for what that's worth, there are no anacondas in Borneo, except maybe in the zoo. Why not go for broke and just shoot Anaconda 3 in Ireland? And while we're nit-picking, the layers of razor-sharp, triangular teeth sported by the movie snakes not only look cheesy, but they're absolutely pointless in an animal that swallows things whole without chewing.

Our band of heroes is so well balanced ethnically that it even includes that most despised of minorities, a blond white southern girl (KaDee Strickland). Also on board, in addition to Chestnut (doing his usual urban-professional-who-learns-to-care shtick), are a British guy (Matthew Marsden), a racially ambiguous woman (Salli Richardson-Whitfield) who's always on a cell phone, a Latin lothario (Nicholas Gonzales), and a black stereotype of a technical expert (Eugene Byrd) who says things like "Check it, a'ight!" and "I'm a baaaad man!" only to turn into Jar Jar Binks as soon as the anacondas show up.

Commandeering the only boat that will travel during monsoon season are Bill Johnson (Johnny Messner), the world's most muscular drunk; Tran (Karl Yune), a tattooed Asian dude who looks way too pretty to be a jungle dweller; and Kong, an irritating little monkey of the Outbreak and Friends variety, who gets numerous close-ups because, well, monkeys are funny. In theory.

The best thing about that lineup of characters is that it's impossible to tell who will die and in what order. Props for that. Sadly, not enough of them bite it. Movies like this are supposed to whittle the cast down to one or none, dammit! And Little taunts us with references to headhunters without ever showing them. For a brief shining moment, it seems that the cannibal genre, as popularized by Italian exploitation directors in the '70s, might be making a comeback, but it is not to be -- at least, not yet.