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Movie Review

The Derivative and Dull 'Lake Placid': What a Croc!

July 16, 1999|JOHN ANDERSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

OK, campers, this is a standard inspection. Please have your checklists ready:

Aerial shot--introducing picturesque hills, forest and lake where nothing should go wrong but everything will?

Got it.

Murky underwater shots--implying threat from below but actually showing nothing?

Check.

Soundtrack that suggests heartbeat?

Yup.

Federal official displaying insufficient respect for local law enforcement and thereby ensuring his own gruesome death?

You bet.

False alarms by the boatload? Check.

Rip-offs of "Jaws"? Check.

Incredibly lame jokes meant to relieve nervous tension? Check.

No nervous tension? Check.

Welcome to "Lake Placid," in which a remote body of water that is not the former Winter Olympics site is terrorized by an enormous crocodile. And in which a cast that includes Bridget Fonda, Bill Pullman, Brendan Gleeson and Oliver Platt finds itself up "Dawson's Creek" without a paddle.

Director Steve Miner--the man behind "Halloween: H2O," Chapters 2 and 3 of "Friday the 13th," "Forever Young" and the pilots of several successful TV series--also directed the first year of "Creek." And he and producer-writer David E. Kelley ("Ally McBeal," "Chicago Hope") have contrived an alleged horror movie that has the sensibility of a teen TV series. The few moments of shock and mayhem are effective enough (and will have people clutching each other in the backs of theaters everywhere, which is the point) but only because they've ripped off Steven Spielberg.

The rest of the film has its actors reciting dialogue silly enough to equal the scenes themselves--the four mostly sizable stars, for instance, jammed into two wobbly canoes on a lake where the monster croc has been biting people in half. This is funny stuff, but only if you think the movie is laughing with you and not at you.

"Placid" certainly treats its characters as jokes. Kelly Scott (Fonda), a paleontologist at New York's Museum of Natural History, is dispatched to Maine to identify the tooth removed from the remaining half of the wildlife inspector. No Fed Ex in Maine, you ask? Sure, but Kelly has just broken up with her boss (Adam Arkin) and in order to get her out of his hair he's sending her off to Maine, where she gets to play the aggravating New Yorker, whining about the bugs, the weather, the rubes and the fact that there are no toilets in the woods.

More absurd--but in this movie, you don't necessarily notice--is Hector Cyr, a wealthy mythology professor and crocodile aficionado. "He thinks they're divine conduits," Kelly says, seriously. Hector, played by Platt with as much brio as possible, drops in by helicopter to join Sheriff Keough (Gleeson) and game warden Jack (Pullman) in their search for a reptile capable of snatching grizzly bears right off the shore of the lake (Grizzly bear attacks in Maine? Hey, crocodiles in Maine?)

Betty White gets to play an eccentric old weirdo and recite lines salty enough to have given the rest of the Golden Girls cardiac arrest (well, maybe not Bea Arthur). Like White, the crocodile is having a long-awaited day in the New England sun. After enormous snakes ("Anaconda"), various apes, mobs of frogs ("Frogs"), and whatever that mechanical spider is supposed to be in "Wild Wild West," the lowly crocodile is more than due.

* MPAA rating: R for violent creature attacks and related gore, and for language. Times guideline: Scary stuff is played for laughs--but it's still too scary for young children.

'Lake Placid'

Bridget Fonda: Kelly Scott

Bill Pullman: Game warden Jack Wells

Oliver Platt: Hector Cyr

Brendan Gleeson: Hank Keogh

Betty White: Mrs. Dolores Bickerman

Meredith Salenger: Deputy Sharon Gare

Fox 2000 Pictures presents, from Phoenix Pictures, a Rocking Chair production, a Steve Miner film. Directed by Steve Miner. Written by David E. Kelley. Produced by David E. Kelley, Michael Pressmen. Executive producer Peter Bogart. Director of photography Daryn Okada. Production designer John Willett. Editor Marshall Harvey. Special effects by Stan Winston Studios. Music by John Ottman. Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes.

In general release.

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