Directed by Steve Miner
Review by Matt Heffernan
When I first saw the trailer for Lake Placid, I immediately thought "yet another Jaws rip-off." This time they just use a crocodile instead of a shark. Instead, this film merely aspires to be a Jaws rip-off.
Paleontologist Kelly Scott (Bridget Fonda) is sent to Maine to examine a tooth fragment that was found on the body of a game warden, who was apparently bit in half by something in a lake. The warden was with the local sheriff (Brendan Gleeson) at the time, but the sheriff didn't see what the creature was -- he just pulled half of a man out of the water. Kelly determines that the tooth belonged to a large, almost pre-historic, reptile. She goes back to the lake with the sheriff and the head game warden, Jack Wells (Bill Pullman). While setting up camp, Hector Cyr (Oliver Platt), a renowned crocodile expert, arrives in his personal helicopter. He joins the team to find what does turn out to be a 30-foot Asian crocodile, that has somehow made its way to the back woods of Maine.
Nobody seems to like each other in the beginning. Everyone makes sarcastic remarks towards the sheriff. Hector is an abrasive, pompous jerk. Kelly is a fragile New Yorker that hates the locals. Jack is pretty much completely uninteresting, but does manage to jab the sheriff a few times. In Jaws, there were three characters who went on a quest to get the great white: Chief Brody (Roy Scheider), biologist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and salty shark-killer Quint (Robert Shaw). Here we have the sheriff as our Chief Brody, two Hoopers in Kelly and Hector, and no Quint to speak of (that would have required creativity). Jack is pretty much scenery.
Camaraderie somehow develops beetween these characters by the end, as it had to, I suppose. But the characters weren't the driving force behind this film -- they just needed a really big crocodile. Using effects that Spielberg certainly wishes he had in 1975, a very convincing monster is created that can jump out of the water and take down a brown bear as if it were a rag doll. Some scenes with the croc are scary, but in a jumpy, sudden sort of way. Between the attacks, there is no real tension. I spent most of the time waiting for some of these idiots to get eaten. Of course, they use the old "Star Trek" trick of sacrificing minor characters. I'm surprised they weren't wearing red jumpsuits.
Perhaps the most offensive thing is getting Betty White to use foul language in her part as a woman who lives on the lake. Since the croc ate her husband, she's been feeding the little darling her cows -- who she politely blindfolds and leads to the shore. When the sheriff threatens to arrest her for reckless endangerment, she starts cursing like an old sailor. Even Robert Shaw wasn't that profane. Somebody in Hollywood has gotten it into his head that it is funny to have old ladies swear. No jokes or wit are necessary, I guess.
Save yourself some trouble. Just go rent Jaws. Better yet, buy it! It's available on widecreen VHS from Amazon.com. It will actually cost you less than going to see a second-rate imitator.
For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Lake Placid (1999)
Video Pick of the Week
Guide to Star Ratings
Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan