"Lake Placid" is a "creature-in-the-water" thriller with its tongue pressed firmly in cheek. Director Steve Miner (at the time, coming off of 1998's successful "Halloween: H20
") apparently has a thing for very short movieshis Michael Myers romp ran a scant 85 minutes, and this one barely makes it to 82but one positive thing that can be said about their brevity is that they don't have time to wear out their welcome. Further helping things along is David E. Kelley's surprisingly snappy writing, for all intents and purposes transplanting the tone of his hit television show, "Ally McBeal," to the big screenwith crocodiles. Sure, the plot is slimly developed (and ridiculous), but Kelley merely uses the picture's conventional framework as a means of unleashing his colorful, ragtag gaggle of characters.
When a scuba diver is torn in half by something lurking in a seemingly sleepy Maine lake, recently spurned New York paleontologist Kelly Scott (Bridget Fonda) is assigned by her cheating boyfriend/boss (an unbilled Adam Arkin) to travel down to the small town and examine the tooth that was found on the corpse's body. Once down there, she meets up with game warden Jack Wells (Bill Pullman), mythology professor Hector Cyr (Oliver Platt) and two county sheriffs (Brendan Gleeson and Meredith Salenger) to investigate the death. Their ultimate discovery? The culprit is a 30-foot-long crocodile that has leaked in from the ocean, its appetite insatiable enough that it thinks nothing of eating bears, cattleand humansat a moment's notice.
"Lake Placid" moves briskly, hopping from its first act to its third with little downtime. The oversized predatory reptile is sometimes animatronic, other times computer-generated, and the effects hold up reasonably well for a mid-budget feature from 1999. If there are the spare shots that are less convincing than others, it is easy to chalk them up to being in the vein of the loopy, all-in-good-fun B-movies which the film appropriately emulates. After all, how else but as a spirited lark can one view a film where a crocodile tries to eat a helicopter?
In the acting department, Bridget Fonda is feisty and resourceful as Kelly, her urban sensibilities comically standing in contrast to her new outdoorsy surroundings. Meanwhile, Bill Pullman is Fonda's token potential love interest, Jack, the two of them flirtatiously sparring with the best of them; Brendan Gleeson plays his bumbling sheriff character to a hilt, and Oliver Platt intentionally goes bigsometimes too bigbut garners a handful of laughs in the process. Meredith Salenger, who made a splash in the '80s with such films as "The Journey of Natty Gann" and "Dream a Little Dream," is a welcome face as a local sheriff assigned to the investigation. Last but far from least, the insuppressible Betty White is a scene-stealer as elderly farmer Delores Bickerman, feeding her cows to her wild backyard pet and cheerfully reciting obscene lines like this humdinger: "If I had a dick, this is where I'd tell you to suck it."
Familiar but witty, "Lake Placid" displays an awfully sunny disposition for a film where all manners of severed heads keep getting thrown in Kelly's exasperated direction. To paraphrase a resonant adage from the late, great Roger Ebert, it is less important what a movie is about than how it is about it. Here is a prime example of just that, an old-hat but somehow still fresh horror-comedy that wins its audience over by the personalities onscreen. Yes, Bridget Fonda and Bill Pullman are in a semi-schlocky killer-animal flick, but they are exuberantly drawn characters worth following all the same. It is this certain offbeat charm that has helped "Lake Placid" to improve rather than diminish with age.