Lake Placid
Rating -

Comedy/Horror (US); 1999; Rated R; 82 Minutes

Bill Pullman: Jack Wells
Bridget Fonda: Kelly Scott
Oliver Platt: Hector Cyr
Brendan Gleeson: Sheriff Hank Keough
Betty White: Delores Bickerman

Produced by Peter Bogart, David E. Kelley and Michael Pressman; Directed by Steve Miner; Screenwritten by David E. Kelley

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Written by DAVID KEYES

Some ineffable part of me hurdles in excitement towards a ridiculous creature feature, and "Lake Placid" is the kind of movie that leaves me filled with unexplainable appreciation. Not since "Anaconda" has a film managed to be so hair-brained that it is completely enjoyable. The movie is bad beyond comprehension, of course, but that's really not the point. There comes a time every once in awhile when one is entitled to savor the cheap thrills of a ludicrous and foolish movie. Pictures like "The Mummy" and this one suggest that, even though everything in sight defines cinematic repulsion, that doesn't mean you still can't have a good time.

And yet, "Lake Placid" is not always idiotic. Yes, the story structure is admittedly hollow, and the characters lack enough pizzazz to generate general interest. But the film has dialogue with a satirical edge, and enough convincing special effects to build up a fear in crocodiles. With those qualities, the movie rises above being more than just a guilty pleasure. Without them, the film still works for me. Big budget productions in which ugly creatures chase human beings are a weakness of mine (with the exception of "Godzilla," naturally).

The picture opens in Black Lake, a place, as we are told by a deputy, "was almost called Lake Placid until someone learned that the name had already been taken." Here, peace and serenity gleam from the algae-filled waters, always calm because there is only one civilian living near it. One day, when a diver comes to tag beavers, he accidentally swims towards an underwater nest where everything is quiet, the soundtrack gets serious, and his legs are suddenly chewed off. When his remains are recovered, a New York museum sends Kelly Scott (Bridget Fonda) to investigate it, since the remains contain a tooth which may carry a link to prehistoric origin. Of course, a paleontologist would get the tooth and return home, but Kelly offers to stay. Since she was dating her boss, and he dumped her for another coworker, she's not in a rush to get home. Too bad. Her stay at the lake is by no means a pleasant one.

At first, she and the concerned officials of this town do not know what they are up against. There is belief that the attack could have been caused by a bear, but that is set aside when a friend of Kelly's, Hector (Oliver Platt), arrives with the notion that he is going to find a crocodile in these waters. The idea seems nonsensical, since there has never been a sighting of one at this location. Quickly their beliefs are discarded when they actually see the creature ingest a bear, and later a cow, thanks to the help of an old farm woman who considers the croc "a pet in the wild." Betty White, who plays her, has all the best moments in the movie, although the language that often comes out of her mouth feels like sticking needles in your ears. Even when she is babbling about law enforcement being a bunch of jerks, she brings a sense of reality and compassion to the situation. "If I had told you about the crocodile, you would have killed him." This is the first monster picture that I have seen in which a nice old woman likes the idea of a reptile chomping down on police officials.

A cast and story are not the point here. It's pretty obvious that filmmakers are aiming to keep things simple, simply by giving us a big special effects creature (created by Stan Winston) and innocent bystanders to stand in his way. By the time the croc has feasted on half-a-dozen sources, you could care less whether he eats the most important characters in the movie, since they aren't developed in a manner than we can respect. The movie contains everything you could imagine; wit, charm, big animals, severed limbs and explosive dialogue. The only thing it lacks to make it more memorable are decent underwater shots. Sometimes the camera catches divers at such a frustrating angle that you cannot tell the difference between two of them. The cloudiness of the water doesn't help much, either.

Of course, the biggest complaint that "Lake Placid" will receive has nothing to do with the film itself. It arrives at the same time when movie theaters are unveiling the Sundance Film Festival hit "The Blair Witch Project," which gets its scares and screams for things other than blood and gore. People who see this little indie horror flick are going to look at Steve Miner's "Lake Placid" as a conventional, generic piece of work with no thrills. I guess that's just part of the typical movie audience, though: every time something original shows up on screens, a more routine approach to the genre, like this movie, is forgotten at the box office and overshadowed by the other movie's popularity.

Thank heavens I'm not in that typical movie audiences. As long as Hollywood invests their money into flicks with big ugly creatures terrorizing mankind, I'll be standing first in line.

1999, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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