Grade: D-

A group of scientists and business types travel down a rain-swollen river in Borneo in search of a flower with fountain-of-youth properties, only to meet up with big snakes that pick them off one by one. That’s essentially the entire plot of this bargain-basement sequel to the campy 1997 creature feature, and the only scary thing about it is that it not only took seven years to come up with the lame idea, but required a complement of no fewer than seven writers–three of them (Hans Bauer, Jim Cash and Jack Epps, Jr.) credited with the story and four (John Clafin, Daniel Zelman, Michael Miner and Ed Neumeier) with the script–to fashion the feeble screenplay. With the exception of the blood orchid, after all, it’s as little different from the first “Anaconda” as any one of the “Friday the 13th” movies was from the original slash-fest. And it’s just about as good as them, too.

As befits a sequel, this one boasts effects that try to outdo those in the previous installment (multiple snakes this time around), but fail; limper direction (by Dwight Little, who already has had experience with such sterling follow-ups as “Halloween 4” and “Free Willy 2”); and a distinctly less starry cast. The first “Anaconda” featured Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Eric Stoltz, Owen Wilson and most importantly Jon Voight, who delivered such an extraordinarily hammy performance (complete with a wonderfully thick, totally unidentifiable accent) as a nasty poacher that he single-handedly turned the picture into a camp classic. This time around we get the likes of Johnny Messner, KaDee Strickland, Matthew Marsden, Eugene Byrd and Salli Richardson-Whitfield, in whose company Morris Chestnut comes across as a true luminary. And there’s no Voight substitute in sight to give the thing a charge; a mean scientist with a British accent doesn’t cut it.

As “Anacondas” opens, we’re introduced briefly to the tropical locale and then whisked to a corporate boardroom where a bunch of greedy executives salivate over the possibility of making a pill from the blood orchid that will extend youthfulness indefinitely (potentially a bigger seller than Viagra, one of them remarks). The only problem is that the plant blooms in only one hard-to-reach spot in Borneo, and then only once every seven years; happily, they have two weeks before it goes back into hibernation. So six of them set out on the dangerous journey–a couple of ambitious executives (Chestnut and Richardson-Whitfield), the aforementioned nasty scientist (Marsden) and his lissom assistant (Strickland), a lascivious doctor (Nicholas Gonzalez) and a comic-relief gofer (Byrd). The only boat they can hire to take them down river is an “African Queen” reject called the Bloody Mary, captained by a sternly macho American expatriate (Messner) who has a single crewman (Karl Yune). They soon lose their vessel (broken rudder, waterfall), and are forced to trudge through the jungle in an effort to escape; and though they’re threatened by spiders and the big snakes, the scientist will stop at nothing to keep the orchid garden on their itinerary. Along the way various members of the expedition are gobbled up, and sometimes regurgitated, by the giant serpents (who are massing in a single place for mating purposes, we’re informed), and a few escape–in a final sequence that owes more than it should to “Jaws.”

“Anacondas” is subpar in every department. The plot is idiotic, the dialogue cliche-ridden, and the physical production (designed by Bryce Perrin) at best mediocre. Stephen F. Windon’s widescreen cinematography is better than that, but hardly exceptional, and Nerida Tyson-Chew’s background score is loud but not distinctive. Little’s direction is by-the-numbers, and the effects–supervised by Dale Duguid–are poverty-row. As one might expect, the acting is almost uniformly awful, with only Chestnut and Yune transcending the amateur-night posturing on display; the worst of it surely comes from Byrd, whose updated Jimmy Walker routine is as tasteless as it is annoying. Indeed, the most compelling characterization comes from a pet monkey called Kong, whose real name is unhappily omitted from the credits. His shrieks of agony might well be emulated by members of the audience.

The original “Anaconda” was dumb fun; this sequel is just dumb.