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Cinema Signal: Not quite a green light but has elements of strong appeal for a limited audience. MOBILE: |

. "Anacondas: The Hunt For the Blood Orchid"

Another scary movie with a set of fresh, young actors venturing out where there are threats to life and limb from all sides but mostly from some supernatural monstrosity that thinks of them as tasty morsels. The unusual thing about it is that it's more carefully crafted than many in the fright genre for a younger audience.

It starts with the scene that sets the stage for the hunt and which provides a high stakes quarry we can all get behind. Scientists have discovered that a rare orchid that grows in the deep jungles of Borneo has life-extending properties that could be worth billions to the first company that captures enough specimen to develop a drug. Trouble is, it must be collected at its blooming stage, which occurs only every 7 years. And, it's in bloom now! Since it will last only another couple of weeks, the team is assembled and dispatched immediately.

Films with a group of people, films like "The Dirty Dozen", "Oceans Eleven" are textbook examples of writers and directors setting up their characters with enough individuality to give them instant recognition and audience bonding.

The task of introducing the characters is done here with a notable level of skill, making a critical writing task seem casual. The scientists and company reps are Matthew Marsden as Dr. Jack Byron, a self-styled leader with an uncompromising approach; gorgeous KaDee Strickland ("Stepford Wives", "Girl, Interrupted" as his assistant Sam Rogers and a total babe; no less so Salli Richardson as Gail Stern who thinks of herself as the leader; and Morris Chestnut ("Confidence") as scientist Gordon Mitchell.

The group arrives in Borneo and finds that local boatmen won't take them upriver during this storm season. They wind up negotiating with the one man who'll do it for a price -- a high one. Bill Johnson (Johnny Messner, "Spartan"), is a buff powerhouse with an easygoing cut-to-the-chase confidence. His crew and right-hand-man is similarly built Tran (Karl Yune), an always-there sidekick. And, joining the crew for early snuffing is Nicholas Gonzalez as lecherous, onboard doctor Ben Douglas who suffers from opportunistic overconfidence.

The social dynamics on Johnson's vessel, which was built sometime after Noah's ark went down, evolve from petty flirtations, to awe of Johnson's combat skills with a knife, to issues of collective survival and evil villainy. By the time the human and superhuman creatures make their moves, we care enough about some of these characters to become involved in the outcome of the journey.

In an ensemble piece in which every participant carries their appropriate share of the acting burden (lots of variations on fear and shock), the standout is KaDee Strickland. It's evident, to me, at least, that this bright bombshell from Georgia will be the sexual tension-maker in a stream of future films, three of which are already in the pipeline. Clearly, we're witnessing a star in the making which her appearance in "The Street Lawyer" (based on the John Grisham novel) should solidify.

In a genre that includes the Freddie Krugers and "Screams" of the world, one doesn't always find distinguishable characters, sound acting, and splashingly effective CGI creations. Considering the pro writing and production values, this is an above average specimen, despite its predictable and cliched nature from which it can no sooner escape than can a victim of one of these 100 year old 100 feet long snakes that hunger for a satisfying meal.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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The team fording a Borneo river
Presenting a long problem

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