So what's under the water in that lake deep in the Maine woods? No one is sure what it could be, but a dead and severely mutilated body was found near the shore, and the only clue is a large tooth which appears to be from a prehistoric animal resembling a huge crocodile. Jack Wells, the local fish and game warden, is investigating the case when he's assigned a helper, paleontologist Kelly Scott. Kelly generally does office work since she hates the outdoors and is recovering from a breakup with one of her co-workers. Jack would just as soon handle this matter without Kelly's help, but with time, the two get used to each other and something beyond a working relationship begins to develop. Meanwhile, Jack and Kelly also have to deal with Sheriff Hank Keogh, who would like to find the mystery creature and kill it; Hector Cyr, a quirky mythology expert who wants to capture and study the beast; and Mrs. Bickerman, an eccentric older woman with dubious stories about her missing cattle...
Directed by: Steve Miner
. Starring: Bill Pullman
, Bridget Fonda
, Oliver Platt
, Brendan Gleeson
, Betty White
, David Lewis
, Tim Dixon
, Natassia Malthe
, Mariska Hargitay
, Meredith Salenger
, Jed Rees
, Richard Leacock
, Jake T. Roberts
. Music by: John Ottman
Lake Placid has the potential to be good B-movie entertainment. It features a giant crocodile munching up a group of wildlife experts in the middle of a large lake. Unfortunately, the movie's written and produced by David E. Kelly, who seems to think that moviegoers everywhere will want to see some of that same humor he puts into Ally McBeal into Lake Placid. A word to Kelly, this is a "killer animal" flick, and I wish to see a crocodile causing mayhem, not some immature idiots arguing over things we don't care the slightest bit about.
Lake Placid doesn't even take place in the titular body of water. Instead, the setting is in Black Lake, and the film begins with a man exploring a beaver site. Before he does anything substantial, he's bitten in half right before Sheriff Hank Keough's (Brendan Gleeson) eyes. Keough brings in fish-and-game warden Jack Wells (Bill Pullman), and paleontologist Kelly Scott (Bridget Fonda) comes along for the ride when she discovers the tooth Keough recovered is reptilian.
The arrival of Hector Cyr (Oliver Platt) confirms to Kelly that the lake has a loose crocodile, which somehow swam all the way from Asia. Arguments and conflicts erupt between Cyr and the others, since they obviously think he's a madman. Finally, they discover that some old woman (Betty White) has been feeding her cows to the crocodile and is trying to protect it. The group continues to argue over whether they should kill the crocodile or not and they come up with a plan that could trap it. The question is whether they have the firepower and manpower to take down this 30-foot monstrosity.
There's already an immediately noticeable flaw about Lake Placid. From the beginning, we realize nobody's really in danger. The lake's pretty far away from the town and it seems that nobody ever really comes by. It's mentioned the crocodile's been there for six years and it all that time it's only eaten one man. Thus, nobody is really in danger. The deputies who are in harm are only in that position because this lame-brained group of "experts" want to hunt this animal down. They don't seem to realize it's their own fault in the first place that they invaded its home. By the end, we feel more sympathy for the crocodile than the human characters.
Director Steve Miner can be credited for holding the crocodile back for quite a while, and in this respect, it's similar to Jaws. At first, you'd think David Kelly was thinking of parodying the Jaws films, but none of his jokes are really aimed towards the crocodile plight. He just likes to have the characters yell at each other back and forth over silly things. Bridget Fonda talks about how much she can't stand the environment in Maine and Oliver Platt's Hector Cyr keeps mentioning how fat Gleeson is while talking about how much of a deity and miracle the crocodile is. This isn't particularly riveting dialogue and Kelly's attempts at humor are clumsy and not particularly funny.
Kelly's script has more flaws than just that. There's a lot of inconsistency and nonsense to the whole thing. The first seen victim was chewed in half underwater, but Cyr specifically states crocodiles don't attack underwater. Huh? He gives something of an explanation for this, but it made absolutely no sense. That's not all. Take into the concept of a crocodile travelling all the way to Maine from Asia. It's unlikely to occur and no explanation is ever given for it. Admittedly, I wouldn't be complaining about it if the movie had been fun, but since it's not, the gripe is a liable complaint.
My expectations for the film were somewhere along the lines of maybe Deep Blue Sea or Anaconda, basically a silly but fast-paced ride. Unfortunately, Lake Placid only gets the former part down pat. For an 82-minute film (and that includes the end credits!)(Based on my memory, this is the second shortest non-animated major studio release behind Army of Darkness I've seen) it's pretty dull with only a couple of laughs and crocodile attacks to punctuate the monotony. At least the aforementioned films knew that it could only hold the audience's attention with non-stop creature attacks.
Sure, Jaws didn't get down to any serious shark action until the finale but it held our attention with masterful suspense and great characters. Lake Placid doesn't have any great characters and it's not helped by the performances. Bill Pullman is almost non-existent; by the time the movie was over I had almost forgotten he was even in it. Bridget Fonda has a lot of spunk as Kelly, but she's a little too annoying to be truly likable. The fact that she's cute doesn't hurt, though. As I think of it now, if Kelly was aiming for parody, he should have looked to Calista Flockhart for the part (and part of me wonders whether or not that would have made this a more enjoyable, albeit more silly, film) Oliver Platt is a major pain, and I truly wished the crocodile took him before anyone else. Only Brendan Gleeson registers as the sheriff, playing a fairly nice guy who seems to be the only one who understands the situation is pretty serious.
It's a pity Lake Placid isn't a more entertaining movie, especially considering how great the crocodile actually looks. Stan Winston's creature effects are truly top-notch here. The CGI-rendered croc is impressive, but the animatronic reptile looks like the real thing. These effects are almost always convincing, much unlike either Deep Blue Sea or Anaconda. Other than the effects, I also liked the use of the perch attempting to fly (?!) as a signal for the crocodile's approach.
Miner should have taken a more action-oriented approach. You see, part of the reason there's almost no suspense is because it seems like no one is in danger, not even the deputies in the area. They all camp around and Miner films it in such a style that we know the crocodile's is never going to sneak up on them. The movie would have worked better had it focused on maybe just five characters (the extra being the most present deputy, Gare, played by Meredith Salenger) stranded in the area with the croc hunting them down. The constant back-and-forth explorations destroy any chance of gaining momentum. Not only that, but also interfering with creating tension are the arguments over the fate of the animal. It's jarring to the film's attempts at suspense, and the characters sound far too confident in their chances of defeating the crocodile.
Speaking of these explorations, these people aren't particularly smart. They actually decide to do some diving to find the crocodile. What good does that do? They don't even arm themselves with something substantial. There's even a point when the crocodile is right behind Hector and doesn't even attack him! Of course, Wells states that the crocodile ate a cow and was satiated. Hmm, then why did the croc attack the chopper right after Hector got on it? Convenience so Miner and Kelly could inject some suspense and still let Hector get away safely? Nah, they couldn't possibly get that low, could they?
(minor spoiler in this paragraph) The finale features something marginally exciting, though not nearly enough to give the boost this movie needs. Of course, the crocodile is trapped, and Keough and Wells have to make the decision as to whether or not they should kill it. But David Kelly doesn't want to make the audience sad by killing this poor crocodile, see, so he conveniently brings in another croc that can get blown to pieces. Of course, stupid as these characters are, they never bother to think that one of these two crocs were females and had given birth.
By the time the movie's over, you'll more than likely be glad, and maybe even tired. As short as it is, Lake Placid felt a LOT longer than 82 minutes, never a good sign for a movie that's meant to be humorous fun.
Review by jiangliqings from the Internet Movie Database.