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PYTHON

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Frayne Rosenoff, William Zabka, Wil Wheaton, Dana Barron, Casper Van Dien, Robert Englund
Director:  Richard Cladbaugh
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio:  20th Century Fox
Features:  Outtakes, Stills Gallery, 2 Trailers, Talent Files
Length:  100 Minutes
Release Date:  January 16, 2001

Film ***1/2

You read that correctly…three and a half stars for Python, which is one of the most fun movies I’ve seen in recent memory.  I have a certain weakness for cheesy popcorn horror flicks that recognize themselves for what they are, and have a great time being just that.  Though the film compares itself to both Anaconda and Lake Placid, it actually surpasses both of those higher profile flicks easily, in my opinion.  With a better looking snake, to boot.

Will the movie appeal to you?  Let me describe the opening.  A cargo plane, with apparently only a pilot and one guy in the back, is in the air.  The cargo, sealed inside a gigantic crate, begins to shift.  The pilot wants his assistant to check it out.  He rips open off a couple of the wooden planks and peers in, at first claiming to see nothing (and later we ask, how does a 139 foot reptile so easily escape one’s attention?), but soon, carnage and mayhem erupt.  Much screaming.  The plane is shown crashing.  The scene immediately cuts to a shot of two lesbians making out in the woods, one gratuitously naked.  If you just chuckled at what I described, then yes, Python is for you, because that’s only the beginning of what this picture has to offer.

Of course, we all know by now that anyone who has sex or gets naked in horror films ends up dead.  Our lesbians don’t know that, however.  One goes off into the woods alone and ends up killed by the python, who somehow managed to survive the plane crash.  More screaming and mayhem.  Her partner, after hearing the grizzly sounding horror, sits with her head outside of the tent and says things like, “Come on, this isn’t funny anymore…”.

The opening credits play against a montage of extremely well done but totally unnecessary shots of our hero sporting it on his bike.  He is John Cooper (Rosenoff), a likable fellow with an unfortunate job, working at the only factory in the small town of Ruby that manufactures acid.  I say unfortunate, because the python has been killing its victims by spitting acid on them, leaving the unlucky John an obvious suspect.

Oh, and did I mention, the head policeman on the case (Zabka) and John have a history, because John ended up with his girlfriend, Kristen (Barron)?  This leads to the usual confrontations and difficulties, but resolves itself hysterically in a knock down drag out fight the two guys have on a playground set, while bewildered kids stand around and watch.  Afterwards, they make up.  I was laughing until the tears came.

There are other great scenes, too, one involving Jenny McCarthy (and what would a B grade horror film be without her, I ask?) as a real estate buyer checking out a house with a guy called…get this…Kenny the Closer.  It’s a scene fraught with double entendres and sexual innuendos.  Too bad they didn’t know the horror film rules, of course, because there’s only one for them to end up.

Naturally, a film like this wouldn’t be complete without the government lawman on the case, Agent Parker (Van Dien) who is sure he can resolve the menace, and the scientist character, Dr. Anton Rudolph (Englund), who serves two plot purposes:  he's the one who discovered the damn snake and tried to smuggle it out of the jungle for research purposes, and he offers all the film’s necessary exposition, getting to spout great lines like, “It’s a perfect killing machine.” 

The snake itself is fairly impressive.  He’s big, but manages to look and move fairly realistically, a lot more so than that ludicrous concoction that tried to pass for an Anaconda in the film of the same name.  I enjoyed every minute of his screen presence, though, unfortunately, being a 139 foot snake pretty much means his future film options are limited.  He does an awful lot of eating in this picture, of course, which made me wonder:  I thought snakes only ate about once every couple of weeks or so?  Ah, fortunately, we have Dr. Rudolph’s explanations to help us there.  In these films, pseudo science can make anything possible.

The rest of the cast is terrific, mostly because they all seem to know they’re making a goofball film, and are having a blast with it.  Most notably, Robert Englund, who seems to knowingly savor every campy nuance.  I also enjoyed seeing William Zabka, once of Karate Kid and The New Kids fame, for the first time in a long while.  You’ll get a chuckle out of Star Trek’s Wil Wheaton with a pink punk haircut (and he gets one of the most memorable scenes, which begins with him asking “you got me out of bed for a snake?”).  Ms. McCarthy plays her scene for all it’s hammy, raunchy worth.  And as mentioned, Mr. Rosenoff is an appealing lead.  This is the kind of cast that can deliver a line like, “The whole town will be like an all you can eat buffet!” with perfect delivery.

This picture marked the feature film directorial debut for Richard Cladbaugh, and I have to say, I’m impressed.  His sense of fun blends terrifically with his scenes of suspense, horror, sex and laughter, and he made what could have easily been another ho-hum by-the-numbers monster movie into one hell of a good time.  Sometimes, the fun can be drained from laughter when you find yourself questioning whether or not you should be laughing.  Cladbaugh offers plenty of winks and nudges along the way to let you know you’re far removed from serious territory. 

I only have one question…why does the cover art say “sixty feet of pure terror” when in the film, the snake is 139 feet?  Sixty feet of terror, 79 feet of humor, maybe?  My math is a little fuzzy…

Video ***

Fox, as usual, delivers a quality anamorphic transfer, even for a film of comparatively lesser importance.  The only noticeable image problem occurs in one or two darker scenes, where objects tend to soften up and a little more grain and less definition is apparent.  That’s not to say ALL the dark scenes are like that, only a couple of them, which actually appear to be from different film stock than the rest of the film.  Apart from that, images are generally very sharp and clear, with strong, natural and well-contained coloring, and no evidence of compression artifacts.  The print is clean, too.

Audio ***

This is a mostly good 5.1 track, with sparing but effective use of discreet channels to the rear stage (mostly to enhance the snake’s slithering sounds).  The front stage is used much more aggressively, with a good mix using all three speakers smoothly and appropriately.  The dynamic range is fairly good as well, with a decent helping of gunplay and explosives to bring the subwoofer into the mix.  All in all, a good listen.

Features **1/2

The disc contains one trailer and one TV spot for the film, some Fox recommendations for other titles (with animated menu screens…nice touch), some outtakes, a stills gallery on real pythons (turns out, very few of them get to 139 feet…go figure) and some talent files. 

Summary:

Python will never be mistaken for a classic, but if you can’t have a good time watching it, you really ought to see your doctor about the amount of stress in your life.  This is a cookie cutter popcorn monster flick that is absolutely milked by a willing cast and capable director for every last ounce of fun its worth.  You’ll shriek and you’ll laugh, often right on top of each other.  With this quality DVD offering from Fox, you owe it to yourself to see the kind of picture Anaconda and Lake Placid should have been.