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Sunday, June 13, 2004

Boa'd Stiff

Actually, the boredom springs more from this review than from the movie (Boa Vs. Python, for those who came in late, as seen on the Sci-Fi channel), which was only medium-boring. I tried to cut it down, but it wouldna budge, Cap'n!

(I was thinking of titling it "Plenty Python and the Wholly Failed", but restrained myself. You owe me.)

For an actual entertaining movie review, see Mark Steyn's review of The Day After Tomorrow. All I got is this.

Summary: A rich jerk organizes a "canned" hunt, with the prey to be a giant (and I mean giant) python he's picked up somewhere. When it gets away from him, the government drafts a scientist's giant (giant) boa to track it down. Hilarity ensues, and many people are eaten.

Special tag line: Monica never saw a snake this size before!

Plot: The movie opens with an event that looked like a combination prize fight, beauty contest, and political convention. It turned out to be a good old wrasslin' match, the kind where the wrestlers have masks and comical names like "Boa" and "Python". Oh, wait, that's all of them. Once our jerk protagonist and his honey (Angel Boris, last seen as the feisty princess in Dragon Storm) are seated at ringside, the wrasslin' can begin.

(Actually, the IMDB listing for this movie says that Angel is Monica, but this review (better than mine, damn him, or at least shorter) says that Jaime Bergman (a former Baywatch babe) is Monica. You couldn't prove it by me; all hot babes look alike to me. I shall proceed under my initial assumption.)

There's no point in describing the wrestling match. See Sampson vs. the Vampire Women for details, or Racket Girls, particularly the scene where the Leopard Lady wrestles the Panther Woman.

Intercut with the wrestling are scenes of a number of beefy, heavily-armed men, led by an Amish guy, shutting up a truck. After a while the jerk at ringside receives a phone call from the Amish guy, whom he refers to as Ramon. He lays a little Spanish on him, they have a cryptic discussion about whatever the hell it is they're doing, and sign off. Ramon continues to give orders in a markedly Slavic accent. He sounds like Yakov Smirnoff. The little convoy starts on its way.

We continue to cut rapidly back and forth between the wrestling match and the convoy. The convoyers determine that there is something wrong with their living cargo. It's supposed to be tranquilized out the wazoo, but it's thrashing around in there. They open the truck a little bit to dope it up some more, but things get out of hand. Ramon decides he'll have to kill the thing with some dynamite he's brought along for the occasion, but he only manages to blow up himself, his helpers, and the truck---but the python (for of course that's what it is) escapes.

The truck explodes at the same time that the wrestling match is concluded, and the jerk and his honey leap up and embrace each other. I think there's supposed to be some sort of irony there, but if so it went sailing over my head and landed with a splat on the wall behind me, then slid down leaving a trail of slime. Uck.

Later, the cops are at the scene, and so is a reporter. Here we have a special treat, Blogland's Own Jeff Rank as the smug, smarmy, sensationalist member of the Fourth Estate. I'll go into the details later. He tries to get a quote from [FBI? CIA? BATF? IGA?] Agent Notso Sharp, who arrives on the scene with one of the worst haircuts in recent memory. He's balding, you see, which could happen to anybody, but he's not quite there yet, and so his buzzcut makes it look as if mold is growing on his dome. Plus he has sideburns. Agent Sharp brushes the reporter off, and goes to see what his partner, Agent Repressed, has found.

Well, a buncha entrails, for starters, but not much else. Then Agent Sharp notices what no one else has noticed, despite the fact that it's pretty damn obvious: a scale the size of a playing card. (I saw this scene in Blade Runner, except it was a small-scale scale.) Notso Sharp probably wouldn't know what it was, if the snake hadn't helpfully eaten a guy in a water treatment plant nearby. Sharp determines that We've got to close the beaches!, but since they aren't any nearby he settles for shutting off Eastern Pennsylvania's water.

Next we're whisked off to what the annoying title cards tell us is Miami, Florida. We get to see a whole meatlocker full of Bulgarian beefcake, lounging around a pool. Also lounging is our next character, a perky blonde (is she the same one as in Phantom Force?) who challenges one of the sides o' beef to a breath holding contest (insert dirty joke here) underwater. Her name, readers, is Monica. Monica is going to play with snakes. At this point the movie-mocking centers of the brain begin to overheat, but we must press on.

She wins the contest by flashing her boobs at her opponent, who goes into cartoon-style hubba-hubba mode and is forced to surface. Triumphantly, Monica begins collecting her winnings, paid in stage money whose counterfeit nature can be detected from Mars. Suddenly the weak Miami sunshine is eclipsed by Agent Sharp, who needs her help.

He takes her to a building in Maryland which is identified as the Longreen Snake Reserve, just down the street from the Shortbrown Snake Reserve, and around the corner from the Fatblack Snake Reserve. In these buildings are kept America's strategic reserves of snakes, stockpiled against the day when, God forbid, we might need to deploy them. That day has come.

Or something like that. Sharp introduces Monica to what appears to be the young Bill Murray. (Not) Bill Murray also has a snake. Agent Sharp wants Bill to show his snake to Monica. It is a very big snake. Monica is mighty impressed with the size of Bill's snake. Warning! Warning! Brain temperature is above normal. Service brain soon.

Monica, it develops, is Swimmer with Dolphins. She loves dolphins, so she's been working with the Navy to fit them with cruel brain implants which will allow them to act as living, underwater UAVs. Sharp wants to know whether she can implant these same doodads into Bill Murray's snake, an enormous boa constrictor (cleverly) named Betty. The idea is that Betty will hunt down the python, and our heroes will be able to track her and capture or disable the other snake.

While they're performing brain surgery on the giant boa, let's check in with jerk-boy and his girl. We see that they are aboard a private jet painted in ugly cartoon colors with big cartoon lettering on the side: Broddick. This is the fabulously-rich jerk. The jet may be ugly outside, but inside it's furnished in the tasteful style of Caligula's Rome, with marble pillars and a big bathtub.

We eventually learn that Broddick has arranged for a hunt. A bunch of guys have paid big bucks to gather together to hunt down something, namely the python which has now escaped. Broddick looks on the bright side and declares that the hunters will just have to get to Pennsylvania and hunt the big snake where it is.

So the cartoon plane lands at a remote clicheport, where the old movie cliches get together to reminisce about the good old days when they were fresh and new. One by one our hunters arrive, and Broddick gives Angel a helpful capsule description of each one.

The first guy to arrive comes barrelling up in a big-ass pickup truck with a ginormous American flag stuck in the roof, while the soundtrack subtly plays loud country-western music. When the truck grinds to a stop, out steps a pair of snakeskin boots, filled by a big man with a big belt buckle nestling under his big belly. He spends a full three minutes adjusting his hat. Yes, Central Casting has sent over a Texan.

We barely have time to roll our eyes before another car comes fishtailing in, the kind of car that would've been considered dece, choice, and bitchin' in 1970's Missouri. When it finally rocks to a stop a good-looking young man in mysterious shades emerges. "Our military's best sniper." Uh huh.

Next up is another pickup, which weaves all over the pavement and the grass before finally stopping to disgorge two guys in camos and hunter orange vests and hats (nice touch, that). They're father and son, and they're part of the comic relief squad.

Angel says, "Wasn't there one more?" Indeed there was. All heads turn as one, and the camera focuses off into the distance. No, behind the ginormous flag. There, a lone figure is striding toward us through the fields. You know he's been striding just like this forever, never faltering, never stopping in his stride. Not even to pee. He strode like this when he first heard the Call of the Python, when he ceased his hunting of the Abominable Yak of the Uighurs. He strode like this on his way across southern Iraq as bombs fell around him. He kept on striding until he got to the Mediterranean, and he kept on striding, straight into the sea, walking on its bottom until he emerged on the burning shore of Tunisia. And then he took a plane to New York. But he strode from there to Pennsylvania. He looks like something out of Mad Max, or Warrior of the Lost World. This, we are told, is the Master Huntsman.

Our gang of Nimrods performs a slo-mo Right Stuff strut, before heading off to track the python.

The python is running loose on the landscape because Agent Notso Sharp gave strict orders that all exits from the water plant be located, sealed, and guarded. So of course you know they missed one, which the python inevitably found, because pythons are smarter than the FBICIABATFIGA.

About this time Jeff Rank is eaten by the python.

Meanwhile, our brain surgeons "Bill" and Monica have succeeded in giving Betty brain implants. They discuss what the implants do, but all we need to know is that they can track Betty, allow us to see what she sees, and are equipped with very sensitive Plot Sensors, so we know they'll go haywire the moment the plot demands it. Betty is unleashed into the water plant. Bill, Monica, and Agent Sharp follow her with an escort of four soldiers apparently pulled off KP duty to go hunt snakes (they are not very competent).

And finally, we are on our snake hunt.

Broddick and the hunters gad about in the woods for a while. The pathetic father-son team starts screaming that they're tracking something, and firing in all directions. In all the confusion the python eats the Texan (how many people can one python, even a very large one, eat in one 24-hour period? I count about eight so far). It all ends when Pop Hunter uses a hand grenade on his prey, which turns out to be a bunny rabbit, and not the python. But I'm guessing you figured that out. The remaining hunters track the python to its bolt-hole and follow it down.

And after that the movie is just interminable scenes of people wandering around the water plant. Monica carries a laptop on which she can intermittently see through Betty's implants. This, as predicted, malfunctions about every ten feet. Two of their four soldier escorts get eaten by the python, and Sharp tells the others they're excused. The action stops completely while Bill and Monica have a heart-to-heart talk. Bill has the bright idea of flooding the plant (which I guess we can do), which will force both snakes to a small, manageable area of the complex. Too bad he didn't have this idea earlier so we wouldn't have had to sit through the movie.

Broddick sends the sniper and Pop and Jr. off to do some recon. The two teams finally meet up when the hunters hear something approach. Taking careful aim (especially the over-the-top psycho sniper), they fill the creature with hot lead. Unfortunately, the creature in question happens to be Agent Notso Sharp. "Whoops." He promptly dies, but not before uttering his signature catchphrase, "outSTANDing". Oy.

The hunters go into a flurry of confusion and fingerpointing, which allows the python to drag the sniper to his unseen, no-doubt-horrible, doom. It then rises up to kill Pop Hunter, but stops short of killing Junior. The reason, we quickly see, is the water the plant is being flooded with. Bill and Monica run, urging Junior to follow, but he's frozen, and finally swept away by the mighty torrent of CGI.

Meanwhile, on a higher physical (if not metaphorical) level, Broddick, Angel, and the remaining hunter (the Mad Max survivor) have found a clutch of eggs. This is their first indication that something weird is going on, since, as Broddick realizes, he ordered a male snake (oh, like those mail-order giant snake places never make mistakes---why many's the time that I---well, never mind...). Angel is handling one of the eggs when Betty looms up silently behind her.

Angel tries to put the egg down gently, but the butterfingers drops it. Betty tries to give her a comforting hug, as if to say, "I know you didn't mean to. I have other eggs anyway." But she does not know her own snakey strength, and ends up squishing Angel to death. Oops. Broddick and his surviving teammate, misunderstanding Betty's gesture, start trying to kill her. This ticks Betty off something fierce, and she bites the Master Hunter right in two. She leaves before killing Broddick, because we need him for the last act.

The python is not there for the fun, because it's off chasing Bill and Monica. They hide from it by diving into a pool of water. Well, the python hangs and hangs around, and very soon Bill's face starts to contort into a variety of comical shapes. He can't breathe, he can't breathe, he's gonna---

And here Monica grabs him and plants her perfectly-glossed lips right on top of him, breathing oxygen from her copious lungs into his. In other words, Monica gives Bill a bl---Warning! Warning! Brain temperature is critical. Cortical damage may occur.

Anyway, they make it out of the pool and conveniently stumble across Broddick. The two men begin to fight (Bill's mad because of Broddick's stupid python stunt; Broddick's mad because Bill's boa bumped off his babe), but before it can get very far, a badly dubbed FBI agent shows up. The FBI takes them all back to Philadelphia, where they have more equipment for monitoring the snakes (Monica having dropped the other equipment somewhere along the way.)

This is where the movie begins to go into free fall.

They monitor the snakes and find out that the python is eating Betty's eggs. We also find out that Bill has been trying to make Betty pregnant without apparent success, of which the less said, the better. While everyone else is engrossed with the snake opera, Broddick (who is now in full psycho revenge mode after the death of Angel), sneaks away and steals an armored personnel carrier.

At this point I uttered the words that made my boyfriend choke on his tequila. "You know, I don't believe this movie any more."

The Incompetent Army can't stop him, and he drives off into the night. Instantly we're on to a new problem: what's that funny noise? Why, it's music! The FBI/Army was supposed to quarantine a section of the city, but somehow several dozen teenage revellers have managed to penetrate the security cordon and start a dance.

Naturally our entire team heads straight there. A scene of horror awaits them: the whitest dancing you will ever see. How white is it? If there were a Eurovision Dance Contest, this would be the Bulgarian entry. The arrival of the python is a positive relief, especially after it eats the DJ.

This kind of breaks the party up, though, and people run screaming. At this point Broddick shows up, for no adequately explained reason. He's got his flame thrower again, and starts blasting everything in sight except for the snake. The club is asbestos, apparently, but the soldiers where special uniforms soaked in gasoline and paraffin. They burn merrily.

It's only when Betty shows up that Broddick really kicks into high, though, since of course she's the one who killed Angel. In a smooooth move not seen since MST3K fave Future War, Broddick rips off his own shirt so he can die with his manly chest exposed. He begins firing wildly (not with the flamethrower, but with a gun this time), especially at Betty, until Bill shoots him full of snake tranquilizer.

This works better on him than it has on the actual snakes, and he begins an interminable death scene, crawling ever more slowly away until the two snakes, who've been fighting around him, each grab hold of one end and rip him apart. He screams for a few seconds after he's dead. Wouldn't you?

The snakes return to fighting and suddenly we're in a subway station. The hell? How did we get here? No clue. The snakes continue fighting until Bill zaps Betty with an electrical gizmo Monica has implanted in her head. I forget the purpose of this, but it manages to cause an explosion which throws Betty clear of the python, to the far side of the railroad tracks. This occurs just in time for a train to come and hit the python amidships. How cool is that? Really, I ask you: how many movies end with a giant python squashed by a train?

Well, this one doesn't. It's not quite over. Bill and Monica hug, and when they're done, Betty is nowhere to be found. The movie ends in sequel territory, with Bill and Monica about to descend back down into the water plant to fetch Betty back.


Analysis: Man, writing about this movie has made me cranky. Grrr!

Let's cut to the part everyone wants to hear about: how was Jeff's acting? Pretty good, I thought. Jeff has a rather large role as an arrogant, smarmy TV reporter. He's constantly bickering with his cameraman, who I thought was also very good. It's too bad they didn't get some better lines to say. When Jeff tries to call his station (to get his cameraman fired) on his cell phone, he can't get a signal, and so wanders out into a field until he finds one. He's yakking on the phone when the python gets him. We were sorry he didn't get a better death scene (no blood), but we were rooting for the snake to eat him minutes before it happened, such was the loathesomeness of the character. Good job, Jeff!

He did have one really great line, great in that it left a wide open loophole for MSTing:

Jeff: "...there is something more pungent than the fetid smell of stale humidity in the air tonight. And that's the stench of..."
Me (yelling at the TV): YOUR ACTING

However, there was one flaw. Such a little thing, I hesitate to mention it. You see, while Jeff had the personality of the smarmy reporter down well, I feel there were...physical...mismatches that made the character less than completely believeable. You see, when you're casting an oleaginous reporter, you really need a fellow with a thick shock of plastic hair, a jutting chin, a deep tan, and about 5,000 blindingly white teeth.

I was trying to think of an actor to use as an example, but when I was reading the blog of this poor unfortunate fellow, and I realized he was the perfect type to play the reporter (scroll down to the picture on the left there). Great writer, but just look at him. Wonder how many villas in Cancun that smile paid for, eh? Now, everybody hates guys like that. Women are repulsed by them. Men want to punch them right in the orthodonture, am I right? So Jeff is wise to eschew this style of appearance in favor the babe-attracting Giant American Shorthaired Teddybear look. But still, I found it made him just a little unbelievable as the go-getting reporter. Wasn't his fault.

Onward. That accent of Broddick's---it wanders all over the Anglosphere. What the hell is it supposed to be? British? Australian? Kiwi? South African? Sometimes it sounds almost Irish, other times it sounds American. Maybe it's Bulgarian actor. (In Australia it was apparently de rigeur for actors to take American accent lessons. Maybe he was only partway through his course.)

Remember ladies: if you're going on a dangerous mission, be sure to wear low, tight pants with midriff-baring, deeply decolletaged shirts, for maximum safety. But if you're going to be handling giant snake eggs, it might just pay to wear a less revealing shirt, lest the mother snake think you've already got a couple of her eggs stuffed in your bra, if you get my drift.

At the pool scene---set, you'll remember, in Miami---the camera follows some hot chick (maybe Monica; I forget) around the pool, and foolishly pans up and up so that we see, looming in the distance, Mount Miami. People, this is so not Florida. There's not a single palm tree! You couldn't have rented a palm tree?

The "kiss", where Monica gave Bill the---I mean, gave him oxygen, was actually a nice little bit. The music turned beautiful for a second, and her hair floated like a halo 'round her head. How do filmmakers decide that some tiny bits of movie are beautiful, while others (even most) stink?

One stinker is the hick debuty who falls into the pile of human remains. Perhaps you have to be a 13-year-old boy to enjoy that.

Not since Smokey and the Bandit has there been such a dysfunctional father and son team as Pop and Jr. Hunter. Jeff says (see the comments to that post) Jr. was played by director Stephen Furst's son. Extra points for mentioning Google.

The Master Huntsman: what the hell happened to him? You make a big damn deal about the striding across half the Earth, you get a big scary guy to play him, and---nothing. I don't think he has a single line, or does a thing except get torn in half. I was looking for him to do something more interesting, like slide down the snake's gullet, shooting hot lead, chomping on a ceegar, and laughing maniacally. As it is, he's just living furniture.

The part where Bill and Monica watch the snake sex was funny.

The ending where the python gets run over by the train is quite good, especially the very quick shot of the python's eye just before impact.

But kinda snoozifying after all.