Lake Placid is a bad movie. But for a bad movie, it’s pretty fun. It has a good cast and it’s “over the top.” What else could you call a movie featuring a wild animal death match between a crocodile and a bear? (Okay, maybe Discovery Channel: The Movie.)
Lake Placid comes from a long line of ferocious animal movies with titles like Tarantula! and Piranha! Its ancestors never rose very high on the movie food chain, and Lake Placid doesn’t rise any higher. It is unmistakably a b-movie.
Deep Rising, Stephen Sommers, a mutant monster movie that had the same "watchably bad" feel to it. If you liked Deep Rising, give Lake Placid a try.
Jaws, 1975, Steven Spielberg, an animal movie that actually worked fright-wise.
The ferocious animal in this movie is a gigantic crocodile and he’s now in Maine. Nobody knows how he got here, but there you have it. The first sign of his presence is the disappearance of a few people from Black Lake — that plus the exaggerated, dark, symphonic soundtrack telling you when to jump. Now, some people are starting to investigate.
Four people ultimately converge on the lake to investigate the mystery: the local sheriff (Brendan Gleeson, fresh off his tour de force in The General), a rep from Fish and Wildlife (Bill Pullman), a New York museum paleontologist (Bridget Fonda), and a comically-eccentric, independently wealthy, only-exists-in-the-movies, mythology professor (yes, mythology) played by one of my favorite actors, Oliver Platt.
Leaving the monster aside, Pullman and Fonda were supposed to be the love interest. Kelly (Fonda) had been dumped by her boss/boyfriend who sent her to Black Lake ostensibly to look at the tooth from a recent autopsy — but really so that the boss can be alone with his new girlfriend. Jack (Pullman) is a lonely man, just waiting for the right girl to come along. The plot suggests that they were supposed to have some chemistry, but there was never any spark between them. They were one of the flattest screen “couples” in a long time.
On the other hand, there was some great chemistry between the professor (Platt) and the sheriff (Gleeson). No, it was not sexual chemistry, it’s just that they had the most interesting relationship in the movie. The sheriff was starting to get fed up with all the visitors to the lake. Inevitably, they would end up in his boat, and inevitably they would make all kinds of smart remarks to him.
The professor is just such a person, but three times as annoying.
Platt and Gleeson saw an opportunity to make their badly written characters into something more interesting. They fed off each other and escalated their little tiffs into show-stealing performances. Their arguments were the best thing in the movie. I am sure their electric relationship was completely unplanned and entirely to the credit of these two very good actors. I wouldn’t say they saved the movie — it was still pretty bad — but they certainly made it more enjoyable.
In contrast, the comic relief was supposed to come from Betty White playing Dolores. Dolores lives at the lake and takes care of the croc. It is supposed to be funny that she cusses, swears, and feeds the beast meat. Actually, it was kind of funny that she would take care of the croc, but to have sweet old White swearing like a sailor just revealed how uninspired and desperate David E. Kelley (the screenwriter) and Miner were.
As for the movie’s main character (the crocodile), he was almost entirely rendered on a computer. For the most part, he was convincing and was often worth marveling at. The image of a huge crocodile advancing on a truckload of people was pretty tense, and surprisingly believable. And when the thing moved, he had the look and feel of a real reptile, not some computer-generated “reptile” formula.
So even though I know how bad this movie really is, I have to say I had some fun. Still, I cannot in good conscience recommend it. It really is a b-movie. The plot is pure formula, the lead characters were flat, and the whole thing just crumbles under scrutiny. If you go, take your lowest expectations and you might have some fun.