Lake Placid (1999)
Release Date: July 16th, 1999 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Steve Miner Actors: Bill Pullman, Bridget Fonda, Oliver Platt, Brendan Gleeson, Betty White, Natassia Malthe, Mariska Hargitay, Meredith Salenger
t starts the way any good killer animal movie should – a diver in Aroostook County in Maine gets the lower half of his body bitten off by a toothy lake monster. The local fish and game department, led by officer Jack Wells (Bill Pullman), assumes it’s a bear; all Sheriff Hank Keough (Brendan Gleeson) knows is that he’s lost a friend. New York paleontologist Kelly Scott (Bridget Fonda), despite clearly not being a field person, journeys to the rural backwoods swampland of New England to serve as an advisor. Kelly isn’t thrilled with the living arrangement (sleeping in tents) or the abundance of mosquitoes, but needs the escape from her boyfriend/boss who has been cheating on her with coworker/friend Myra (an early role for Mariska Hargitay).
At the same time, wealthy, eccentric mythology professor/crocodile hunter/trapper Hector Cyr (Oliver Platt) flies in on a private helicopter to aid in the hunt for what he assumes is a massive crocodile. His presence provides expensive equipment and little respect. Also joining them is flirty Deputy Sharon Gare (Meredith Salenger), one of the few participants who seems genuine as a background character dealing with the hostile situation. As the team searches the murky waters for signs of the creature, Kelly and Jack start to bond, the body count rises, and, when the 30-foot croc finally reveals itself by dragging a raging bear into the lake, the group makes serious plans to take down the murderous beast.
Everyone is quirky, witty, sarcastic, and unique, cleverly scripted to be an odd fit for a man-eating reptile flick. “Lake Placid” doesn’t try to hide its comedic nature, the ridiculousness of the central concept, and the humorous way the characters deal with death and destruction. It’s equal parts horror and comedy. Fonda complains, nags, and screams incessantly, Platt and Gleeson bicker back and forth, Betty White (in an amusing turn) curses, and Pullman keeps his cool in his usual, unenthusiastic manner. Brendan Gleeson is slightly too accomplished to be involved at all, as is Mariska Hargitay (in a bit part right before becoming Detective Olivia Benson); perhaps even Betty White shouldn’t have messed with this project (“I hope the crocodile wins!”), but these interesting supporting players certainly increase the entertainment value.
Director Steve Miner (“Friday the 13th Part 2” and “Halloween H20: 20 Years Later”) includes the standard horror movie jump scares, gore, and suspenseful attacks, which manage to be tinged with humor as well – people continually fall in the water (Kelly tumbles in 3-4 times herself) to bait the oversized varmint. As for visual effects, Stan Winston’s creature designs are always exciting, and “Lake Placid’s” scaly antagonist is no exception. The computer graphics are decent, as they’re used sparingly, but it’s the gigantic animatronic brute that looks truly impressive. Like a cross between the “Jaws” shark and “Jurassic Park’s” T-Rex, the slimy, rubbery puppet gets some surprisingly fun moments – the best of which involves an underwater attack on Fonda and an airborne assault on the helicopter. The climax isn’t too shabby either, although the movie moves a touch swiftly, featuring a noticeably short runtime.
– Mike Massie