Lake Placid (1999)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2011-08-06 02:56

Written by: David E. Kelley
Directed by: Steve Miner
Starring: Bridget Fonda, Bill Pullman, and Oliver Platt

Reviewed by: Brett G.

"I'm rooting for the crocodile. I hope he swallows your friends whole."

I have an unnatural love for seeing people get devoured by giant (usually aquatic) animals in film. That no doubt stems back to seeing Jaws at an early age, so Iíve been watching these types of movies for as long as I can remember. So, suffice to say, Lake Placid was a pretty big deal for my fifteen year old self. Somehow, I missed it in theaters, but when the bad boy showed up at the local Blockbuster sporting a Jaws-inspired VHS box, it was sort of like love at first sight (fair warning--this is going to be an unusually gushy review of a silly giant crocodile movie).

When a beaver tagger is bitten in half by something in the waters of Black Lake in rural Maine, a New York City museum sends out paleontologist Kelly Scott (Bridget Fonda) to investigate; upon arrival, she teams up with a local sheriff (Brendan Gleeson) and a wildlife officer (Bill Pullman) to figure out whatís devouring the local population. When an eccentric mythological professor (Oliver Platt) shows up, he claims that itís likely a crocodile thatís responsible for all the carnage. He turns out to be right--very right, in fact, as a giant, 30-foot crocodile is soon discovered in Black Lake.

Lake Placid is exactly what a B-movie creature feature should be--itís funny, exciting, schlocky, has a fun group of characters, and doesnít take itself seriously. And the best part? Itís sort of masquerading as an ďA movieĒ by sporting a decent budget and A-list talent. Granted, Steve Miner isnít likely to ever collect a Best Director award, and Iíve certainly been disappointed in everything heís done post-Soul Man; however, this one is the exception and proves that the guy can make a lean, mean horror flick when heís given a decent script. In this case, he was handed a more than decent script thatís actually quite sharp; thereís some genuine wit and humor that make this one work when thereís not a croc anywhere near the screen.

The script is populated with a colorful cast of characters; somehow, everyone is extremely high strung and sarcastic, yet end up being really affable. Acerbic barbs are often traded back and forth, with many of them coming from Fonda. In any other movie, sheíd sort of be a condescending super-bitch who constantly whines about everything; she never quite comes off like that here, though. I miss seeing her in movies, and Lake Placid always reminds me of that. Bill Pullman is putting on his usual everyman good guy persona here, while Oliver Platt threatens to steal the show as the insane professor who shows up just to swim with the crocodile. Heís another guy Iíve always enjoyed, and he really owns the screen anytime heís on it--heís so brazen and brash that heíd also be an asshole in any other movie but somehow manages not to be here.

Oh, and Betty White also shows up in a role thatís completely against her type--well, at least it was for the time. Sheís seen a career resurgence lately by being a kooky old bird, but if you were paying attention back in Ď99, youíd have already seen it done in Lake Placid. Sheís foul mouthed, sarcastic, and even tells a guy to suck a dick that she obviously doesnít have. All this is admittedly juvenile stuff, but this is exactly the type of movie that impressed the hell out of me in my teenage years, and itís still a bit of a riot these days. It must have done something right because I can still quote chunks of dialogue verbatim, despite having not seen it for years.

As fun as the characters are, youíre here for the giant crocodile action, of course. The flick obliges with some fairly gory (and lightning quick) attack sequences. Body parts are scattered about (Fonda especially has bad luck bumping into severed heads), and the crocodile often pops up to chew up some wildlife. The creature itself is a mixture of practical and CGI effects that hold up all around. Stan Winston crafted the physical beast, and itís an impressive looking specimen. And since the characters are likeable, we feel a little peril when they get dumped into the water with it; itís not exactly Jaws, but some of the sequences are rather intense. The climax especially provides plenty of jolts and one really neat surprise.

That climax comes swiftly, too; if anything, Miner knows not to let a horror flick last too long (seriously, check the run-times for just about any one heís ever done). Lake Placid is short, sweet, and bites pretty hard--in a good way. There have actually been two sequels released that I havenít gotten around to for whatever reason (oddly enough, part 3 popped up in a $5 bin earlier today before I wrote this review--call it fate). The original has had a somewhat crummy DVD treatment because the first release in 2000 was non-anamorphic (though the 5.1 track is still pretty good). You also get some TV spots, a trailer, a behind-the-scenes featurette, cast and crew bios, and ďinteractive menusĒ (remember when those seemed special?). Beware for the full-frame version that swims about too--for the longest time, it was the only one I ever saw in store shelves. A Blu-ray upgrade would be welcomed; Iím not saying itís a masterpiece, but less deserving films have made it to high def. I certainly wonít blame you if you canít wait for that upgrade, though--snap this one up if you havenít checked it out. Buy it!

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