Lake Placid (1999)
Directed by Steve Miner
Cast: Bridget Fonda, Bill Pullman, Oliver Platt, Brendan Gleeson, Betty White, Meredith Salenger, Mariska Hargitay.
1999 82 minutes
Rated: (for violence, blood, and profanity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, July 18, 1999.
"Lake Placid," plain and simple, is a sorry excuse for a "creature-in-the-water" movie, even on the basis of the cliched subgenre. Most of the fault has to be put on director Steve Miner who, for reasons unknown, insists on making each of his movies ridiculously and shamefully short (this is also what severely hurt the otherwise stylish, suspenseful, 84-minute "Halloween: H20"). Perhaps Miner just wants the audience to think his films are fast-paced and exciting, which they may be, but I have extra news for him: they also come off feeling utterly empty and leave a negative taste in your mouth. Having to spend approximately $7.75 on a movie ticket doesn't help matters, either.
Here's the deal: when a scuba diver is torn in half within a small Maine lake, New York paleontologist Kelly Scott (Bridget Fonda), whose boyfriend (an unbilled Adam Arkin) has just broken up with her, is assigned to travel down to the lake and examine the tooth that was found on the corpse's body. Once down there, she meets up with game warden Jack Wells (Bill Pullman), mythology professor Hector Cyr (Oliver Platt), and two county sheriffs (Brendan Gleeson, Meredith Salenger) to investigate the death. They soon discover the culprit is a giant, 30-foot-long crocodile that has leaked in from the ocean (yeah, right!), and that casually is able to eat large bears and cattle without a moment's thought.
"Lake Placid" is dumb filmmaking. If it wasn't for David E. Kelley's surprisingly snappy dialogue within the otherwise haphazard screenplay, the movie would be a complete misfire. As is, the film not only is short, but it is cheap-looking, despite its $30-million price tag. Although the animatronic crocodile is somewhat realistic, the computer-generated shots are beyond cheesy (as they were in 1997's similar, but superior, "Anaconda"), and practically the whole film seems to be set in the same exact area of woods right beside the lake. Due to the length, and just as the case was with "Halloween: H20," there is a first-act and then it rapidly switched to the third-act. My question to Miner and perhaps Kelley is, "didn't anyone tell you that there is supposed to be a second act leading up to the climax?"
In the true bottom-of-the-barrell horror vein, "Lake Placid" portrays a group of dimwitted characters who do the most stupid things at the most dire times, such as scuba diving even while knowing that there is a vicious crocodile lurking about, or running into the water to get away from the reptile! These sorts of genre tactics usually can slide by with me just because I get a sick satisfaction watching people being stalked by someone and/or something, but the film isn't the least bit scary, or even suspenseful. Not once was I able to not predict when the crocodile was going to pop out of the water, and all of the big action scenes (there aren't many to begin with) were shown in the trailers. To top things off, not only are the human characters written below normal intelligence, but so is the crocodile who, in one scene, stares at its potential food but waits until the person is safe before it attempts to attack.
In the acting department, Bridget Fonda is feisty and resourceful, if a bit of a whiner, as the strong-willed heroine, and former- "Golden Girl" Betty White is a scene-stealer as elderly farmer Delores Bickerman, who feeds her cattle to the crocodile on a regular basis and recites obscene lines of dialogue such as, "If I had a dick, I'd show you where to suck it." Meanwhile, Bill Pullman is the token potential love interest of Fonda's, Brendan Gleeson plays his bumbling sheriff character to a hilt, and Oliver Platt often overacts to the point of annoyance, but garners one or two laughs. Meredith Salenger, who made a splash in the '80s with such films as "The Journey of Natty Gann" and "Dream a Little Dream," returns after a sizable big-screen absense with the thankless, thoroughly one-dimensional role of another sheriff, and based on her strong performances in the past, she deserves far better.
The only thing "Lake Placid" ultimately has going for it is its witty dialogue. The premise is old-hat by now and, coincidentally, is stunningly close to 1982's fellow horror-comedy, "Alligator." It may tickle your funny bone now and again, but not for long periods at a time, and on the same weekend in which the terrifying masterpiece, "The Blair Witch Project," goes into limited release, the only thing horrific about "Lake Placid" is that director Miner actually thought he was making a good movie.
©1999 by Dustin Putman