A horror-comedy hybrid about a giant crocodile terrorising a quiet Maine waterway, Lake Placid is something of a mixed bag. For all the flashes of humour and parts that have great tension, the rest of the enterprise fails to impress with the script straddling actors with roles that aren’t that interesting. Still, it’s a fun if slightly forgettable movie but it has some entertainment value amid its often confused identity .
A brutal attack that renders a scuba diver cut in half on Black Lake, Maine, raises immense concern for the safety of others. Gruff Sheriff Hank Keough( Brendan Gleeson) ,who was there with the river but didn’t see what killed him is understandably worried about the future at this point. He is soon joined by a diverse group of people from different fields who arrive to discover just what caused this bloody death. We have the calm and collected Fish and Game Warden Jack Wells( Bill Pullman) , who is skilled in the art of sarcasm. Following him is uptight and prissy palaeontologist Kelly Scott( Bridget Fonda)who is assigned following a botched fling with her boss and is there because the fragment of an unidentified but very sharp tooth was discovered in the body, though she is not prepared for outdoor conditions in the slightest . And finally we have the eccentric mythology expert Hector Cyr( Oliver Platt) with oodles of money and not much in the way of tact. At first, some think it might be the result of a bear, though Hector is convinced that it is from a crocodile as he is something of an expert in that field. Everyone begins butting heads over the best course of action for the still unseen predator, but soon everyone must band together when terror strikes. It transpires that the creature in the lake is in fact a 30 ft saltwater crocodile that has a rather ferocious appetite. The rag tag group has to decide what to do before they end up as the beast’s next meal. But will any of them actually survive the carnage to tell the tale?
The directing of Steve Miner is passable enough and at least the running time is quite short which means Lake Placid is at least not a long movie. I must give kudos to some great set pieces that give bite to a muddled film. One really stands out for the suspense it induces. In it, the unusual Hector ,who believes that crocodiles are mythological and that he is immune to danger as he’s never been attacked, finds himself in the lake with the beast right behind him. His mix of awe and fear is palpable as it draws closer to him as if studying his every move and patiently waiting to pounce. If only the rest of the film could have been this thrilling, Lake Placid would have had it mad. Miner does very well in these parts, but can’t save the whole exercise from a feeling of lethargy. The script is the point of contention here. Scripted by David E. Kelley, who is known for rapid fire and very dry dialogue, some parts of his ideas work. They just end up feeling repetitive and juvenile as it goes on which doesn’t help matter. Some of it really has a snap too it with some humorous exchanges, but it ends up not mixing with the horror elements effectively. At least Lake Placid looks good from a visual standpoint and the crocodile is rendered very well, it helps that we only see snippets of it before it lets loose. Stan Winston and his skilful animatronic work, blended with some pretty nifty CGI, make the predatory crocodile intense and believable, even if the film that houses it is not. The music is decent enough at dialling up notches of tension when it needs to but is nothing groundbreaking.
As the leads, we have Bill Pullman and Bridget Fonda. Both are actors I admire and have seen plenty of great work from. The thing is both are somewhat left with roles that don’t stretch them or really let them come alive. Pullman comes off better with his casual attitude and sarcasm providing a few great moments. Unfortunately Fonda is saddled with an annoying character which even her considerable talents can save. The part is whiny, bitchy and often obnoxious . Make no mistake, Bridget Fonda does what she can with material, she’s just left all at sea with a part that should have been better written. The best acting comes from Brendan Gleeson and Oliver Platt, who form something of a chalk and cheese duo who are always at each other’s throats. Gleeson is all scowling, not too bright but authoritative law enforcement, while Platt is out there ideas and an overzealous dedication to his vision that puts everyone in danger. Together the two are a complete blast, sparking off the other with witty retorts and snarling disdain that gives Lake Placid a much needed shot in the arm when it really needs it. They are by far the most entertaining actors and characters here it must be said. And if we are speaking of scene stealing, there’s a very amusing and outrageous small but memorable role for Betty White. She’s loud, foul mouthed and all knowing, plus clearly having a blast in a part you wouldn’t expect from her. I loved it whenever she appeared on screen and went for the jugular with her attitude.
So taking everything into account, Lake Placid is a daft, sometimes funny and scary film. But it just could have mingled better when melding the genres for my liking. It has its good parts though so at least that is something to take away.