Lake Placid (review)

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What a Croc

Please, somebody keep David E. Kelley away from the big screen. His Mystery, Alaska was saved — barely — by a cast that refused to let their screenwriter get away with sappy melodrama. I don’t know what the cast of Lake Placid was thinking — they probably just kept their minds on their paychecks. In Lake Placid, Kelley’s attempt at horror comedy that is neither scary nor funny, what passes for lighthearted banter is downright disgraceful, and the miserable-looking cast seems powerless to do anything about it.

Kelly Scott (Bridget Fonda: A Simple Plan, Jackie Brown), a paleontologist with the Museum of Natural History in New York City, is ordered by her boss (Adam Arkin, who wisely goes uncredited) to investigate a strange accident on a Maine lake. Kelly is a snippy, bitchy whiner — probably as a result of Fonda’s mortification in being seen in such a hopeless flick — and she declares, “I’m not a field person… I’m allergic to timber… I’m not going to Maine.”
So she goes to Maine–

Wait. Lake Placid? Maine? Lake Placid is in upstate New York. Huh?

As Kelly learns when she gets to Maine, the lake on which a diver was chewed rather messily in half is not, in fact, called Lake Placid, so the movie really should be called Not, In Fact, Lake Placid At All. Twinkie-eating Sheriff Hank Keough (Brendan Gleeson: This Is My Father, I Went Down) and sullen Fish & Game agent Jack Wells (Bill Pullman: The Virginian, Zero Effect — Bill, honey, I can’t elevate you the pantheon of They Who Can Do No Wrong if you keep showing up in crap like this) don’t want a mere girl around to intrude as they try to figure out what kind of mutant beast is living in the lake and gobbling folk for lunch. And they certainly don’t want kooky eccentric scientist Hector Cyr (Oliver Platt: Simon Birch, Bulworth) nosing around either. But Hector — who worships crocodiles, by the way — thinks it’s a gi-normous croc living in the lake, and he wants to commune with it.

There’s not a likable character in the bunch. All of them, frankly, are rude, crude, obnoxious, condescending, sarcastic, and annoying, all of them constantly harping on the others. Let the crocodile kill ’em all, I say. But no. Things get even worse as Kelley tries Characterization. There’s Mrs. Bickerman (Betty White), the only person who lives on the lake, who is ludicrously foul-mouthed because it’s “funny” to hear an old lady spout obscenities that would make Howard Stern blush. The real crime, though, is Kelly herself, an unforgivable mishmash of contradictions: She shares pleasant memories of summering at a similar lake but has a nearly pathological fear of mosquitoes and camping; she’s squeamish about looking at a body in the morgue, but she’s adept at first aid and can even sew stitches in a pinch because her dad was a surgeon.

It’s supposed to be funny, I guess, what a mess Kelly is — she’s soul sister to Kelley’s Ally McBeal (whom I also fail to find amusing). And anyway, her skill with a Band-Aid is only an excuse for her to engage in some tender mothering of Jack after a minor injury on his part, because Kelley wants to get Jack and Kelly together. But the incipient romance is so painful that he gives up on that almost immediately — Pullman and Fonda look so uncomfortable together that they must have been relieved.

Feel the burn. Oh, it hurts.

And then there’s Hector, whose idea of a come-on to one of Hank’s female deputies is telling her that she has “such big wonderful boobs.” Boobism is a defining motif of Lake Placid, actually: Hector is a big boob himself, as is Hank, who, like the Fourth Stooge, keeps getting himself caught in the crocodile traps Hector has laid out near the lake. (It makes you want to grab David E. Kelley by the lapels, shake him violently, and scream, “This isn’t funny!”) Neither Hector nor Hank, though, could be classified as wonderful.

In between all the dreadful repartee, there is actually some hunting for the crocodile, but it’s like a bad high-school remake of Jaws. They did this same story on The X-Files, and they did it better in half the running time. The crocodile there ate Scully’s yappy little dog — now that was funny.

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