So, Silent Venom stars Luke Perry as a disgraced captain in the Navy whose submarine is teeming with snakes genetically-engineered by super-scientist Krista Allen. Once more with feeling: the feds paid Dr. Emmanuelle in Space to breed a small army of snakes with coma-venom, and now they're slithering around a sub captained by Middle-Aged Dylan Walsh.
I mean, after reading that, do you really need some long, rambling review?
Just politely nod "yes" 'cause I'm writing one anyway.
Okay, so Captain James O'Neill (Luke Perry) has had a distinguished career in the Navy for twenty years now, but disobeying a direct order -- even though he saved the lives of his men -- lines him up for a court martial. Oh, but the admiral (Tom Berenger) offers him a way to bow out gracefully: the slate'll be wiped clean if he helps oversee a decomissioned sub as it's handed over to the Taiwanese military. The Once and Future Dylan knows a sweet deal when he sees one, so he goes for it. The sub's fresh out of a naval museum, so it's not exactly armed to the teeth. The crew's mostly green, there's nothing more in the sick bay than off-brand Band-Aids and aspirin, and its arsenal is limited to a few pistols with a couple of clips a pop. (In case you're taking notes at home, go over that line a couple of times with a highlighter...it'll be important later!!!!)
Meanwhile, back at some remote island in the Far East, Dr. Andrea Swanson (Krista Allen) has perfected her cross-breeding of pit vipers and Chinese-nuclear-stir-fried-I-don't-know-what snakes. These scaly little bastards are hyperaggressive and pack venom that can neutralize an entire terrorist cell in a couple hours flat. A particularly efficient way to try and fight the war on terror...? No, but if you wanna keep your black ops budget, you've gotta use it, and I guess genetically engineering super-snakes might look like a pretty solid investment anyway. Doc Swanson's research is cut short when the Chinese start puffing out their chests in her neck of the
woodstropics, and the Navy brass decides the only way to salvage something out of the project is to fish her out before it's too late. O'Neill and the Little Sub That Could are just a few hours away, so they're dispatched to swoop in on the way to Taipei. While the Doc's packing up, her skeevy assistant (Louis Mandylor) asks if he can bring a few extra snakes to shill on the black market. She shakes her head no, but Jake thinks...eh, who'll notice? He even grabs two super-super-snakes -- like, the snake equivalent of a Double Gulp from 7-11 -- and tosses 'em on the sub too.
So...uh, guess what happens next?
Look, genetically-engineered super-snakes on the loose in a submarine aren't gonna make for much of a taut, unrelentingly gripping action flick. You're really just holding out hope for something gloriously stupid, and Silent Venom manages to botch that too. It goes something like this: TALK TALK TALK TALK TALK TALK TALK CUTAWAY TO A SNAKE WRIGGLING AROUND TALK TALK TALK TALK TALK TALK UNCONVINCING STAB AT SEXUAL TENSION TALK TALK TALK TALK TALK TALK TALK OH SNAP, SOME MILITARY VESSEL FROM RED CHINA IS BEARING DOWN ON US TALK TALK TALK TALK TALK TALK TALK SOMEONE GETS BITTEN TALK TALK TALK... Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Oh, and sometimes they walk around too. For whatever reason, the offscreen-might of the Chinese military seems to be more of a threat in the flick than the snake-two-point-ohs are, and maybe that says it all right there.
You don't really want me to fill an entire paragraph spouting off about the sparkling dialogue and nuanced performances or anything, do you? I mean, Krista Allen scores the Christmas Jones Award for Outstanding Acheivement in the Field of Miscast Female Scientists, clumsily delivering dialogue like "[the amazing colossal queen snake who's never seen again after the first three minutes of the flick] might be dead due to a shortened lifespan. You know, I can't help but believe that the accelerated growth is a byproduct of an increased metabolism." Silent Venom doesn't even work in any direct-to-video-grade-action-hero-puns. The best you get is Luke Perry grunting "snakes -- ::audible pant!:: -- I hate 'em!" If I knew what screenwriter Mark Sanderson looked like, I'd probably picture him giving himself a high five for coming up with that one.
Sure, Silent Venom has its moments. I kept cackling at the crate housing the two super-duper-super-snakes. You don't get to catch at peek at them in all their low-rent CGI glory until halfway through the flick, and up till then, all you see is that big metal crate hopping up and down off the ground like a steel-plated Mexican jumping bean. The stonefaced-serious Luke Perry defrosts near the end to camp it up; the "...the hell?"-ish slapstick of the climax is a banana peel and a pretty-lady-snake-costume away from an all-out comedy cavalcade. Though there's definitely something to be said for the sight of Dylan Walsh wrestling with an oversized rubber snake head, most of the kills are some flavor of "ack, I was bitten, and in twenty minutes, someone'll drape a sheet over my pale, pasty head"...rarely anything all that inventive or off-the-wall. The 'real' snakes just kind of disinterestedly slither around. They don't really give a shit about what's going on around 'em, and neither does Silent Venom, really. I mean, this is a movie where Krista Allen announces she's going to take a shower, and next time we see her, she's drying her hair. C'mon, even if you can't do snakes-in-a-sub, you'd think snakes-in-a-shower-in-a-sub would be a gimme.
Silent Venom isn't campy enough to be so-bad-it's-good, but it's not good enough to be...well, even worth a couple of clicks on Netflix. Skip It.
Fox has a corporate policy to gimp all of the DVDs they send out to reviewers, which makes them...well, pretty thoroughly useless for reviewing, but whatever. I just work with what they drop in the mail. The watermarked DVD-R I was sent is so incompetently compressed that some stretches look like a YouTube video blown up to fullscreen: mosquito noise swarming around, discoloration, colossal artifacting... It's kind of a wreck straight across the board. Presumably a little more effort was chucked at the final release making the rounds for twentysomething bucks online, but the smart money says it still probably doesn't look that great. Silent Venom was shot on chintzy digital video that highlights just how low-rent everything in front of the camera is, and it's saddled with flat contrast and not all that much in the way of fine detail. Bad. Just...bad. Oh, wait! I can use a thumbs-down graphic instead. Ta-da!
Silent Venom is packing a Dolby Digital 5.1 track (448Kbps), although the whole thing is kinda erratic. Dialogue is often piercingly sibilant, and it has that awkward noise reduction sound to it...y'know, where the stretches between lines come through perfectly, but a grating hiss divebombs in the second someone opens his mouth. The Big Important Military Meeting with Tom Berenger is clipped and distorted on top of that. Fidelity is otherwise alright, though. The score sounds like it was recorded on that Casio keyboard my grandmom bought me from Toys R Us in 8th grade, but it stretches out into every speaker and is reinforced reasonably well in the lower frequencies. Surround use isn't hyperaggressive or anything, but the rears are kept chattering throughout anyway: the creaking metal of a sub a few hundred feet down, squawking birds, and gaggles of snakes hissing and writhing around. Overall, though...? Yeah, 'sreally not all that great.
Sorry, Fox didn't churn out any dubs or downmixes this time around, but there are subtitles in English, French, and Spanish if you need 'em.
The Final Word
Y'know, a direct-to-video action flick with Luke Perry and genetically-engineered snakes in a submarine really shouldn't be this excruciatingly dull. Skip It.