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Lake Placid

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Lake Placid

Starring: Bill Pullman, Bridget Fonda
Director: Steve Miner
Rated: R
RunTime: 88 Minutes
Release Date: July 1999
Genres: Horror, Comedy

*Also starring: Brendan Gleeson, David Lewis, Natassia Maltke, Meredith Salenger, Oliver Platt, Betty White, Tim Dixon, Mariska Hargitay, Adam Arkin

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

"Lake Placid" comes along just in time, at the very moment that we need an antidote for the pretentiously arty horror film that's oddly scaring its youthful audience, "The Blair Witch Project." Where "Blair" is dismaying in its dismal naturalism, "Lake Placid" is filled with just the right measure of special effects. Where "Blair" has dialogue which is lamely improvised, "Placid" has talk which is clever, witty, sharp, edgy. The 30-foot Asian crocodile--which plays the role of a villain that ultimately evokes a surprisingly sentimental response in the macho men out to blow its head off--comes from the remarkably authentic-looking digital effects of its designer Stan "Aliens, Jurassic Park" Winston. About the only thing unbelievable about this refreshing entry into obligatory summer viewing is that Bridget Fonda's character, Kelly Scott, is dumped by her boss in favor of a co-worker. This may provide director Steve Miner and writer David E. Kelley with the motivation to get the woman out of her New York office and into rural Maine. But only a madman could even think of jettisoning such an individual whose rejuvenating features and amusingly caustic repartee would be cherished by any man in possession of his own wits.

Except for a brief shot of Manhattan's West Side in the opening sequence, this film, sporting a comedy-horror genre, takes place entirely in Maine. This can be taken as an homage to the monarch of mayhem, Stephen King, who might view it with a dash of envy. The plot gets under way when Kelly, hair coiffed in an ugly bun-like order as befits a paleontologist, is sent to Maine by her womanizing boss--who is motivated by bones other than those in the dinosaur section of the Museum of Natural History. Having never studied animals outside the hallowed halls of the museum, she is plunged into culture shock when she meets up with some of the macho men of Miner's Black Lake. In some repartee that evokes the contentious conference between Jane Fonda and Alan Alda in Neil Simon's "California Suite," she plays city girl to country boys Jack Wells (Bill Pullman), a fish-and-game warden, and Sheriff Hank Keough (Brendan Gleeson)--while she awaits the arrival of millionaire crocodile fanatic Hector Cyr (Oliver Platt). Tentative about timber territory and far from a devotee of ticks and tents, she queries the new men in her life about bathroom facilities: "How will I wipe myself? I can just wipe my ass with poison oak so I can fit in with the natives." This brings on the Maine male's reply, "You know, you really do not have to tell people you're from New York."

Kelly soon discovers that when heads rolls in Maine, the woodland folks mean something different from what executives intimate in New York. After a diver turns up angry by half, the troupe go after the croc but with different agendas, pitting reptile maven Hector Cyr (who wants to drug the beast and return it to Asian waters) against Sheriff Keough and Fish-and Game Warden Jack Wells (who want to blow its head off).

Betty White provides touches of eccentric charm as an idiosyncratic lodger whose affinity for the lizards is even greater than Cyr's and who gives new meaning to Bart Simpson's favorite quote about having a cow. But Oliver Platt steals the show as the bizarre multi-millionaire who can't help riding poor Sheriff Keough. When Keough insists, "Crocodiles can't swim in salt water," Cyr responds, "That can remain your secret." Audience members who do not travel the arty film circuit may never have seen Brendan Gleeson in his powerhouse performance as the eponymous "The General." He gets no opportunity to show that kind of depth this time around as the anti-urban sheriff, but you've got to admire how this talented performer can alter his speech from an almost encoded Scottish to a brogue Irish to the current demands of the American Northeast.

Of course every viewer is going to recall "Jaws," perhaps the scariest of the aquatic operas, made ever more hair-raising with its signature soundtrack. "Jaws" is almost deadly serious compared to "Lake Placid," the latter best appraised as a fun movie that helps get us through this heat wave. Any story that can get Bridget Fonda to discard that silly museum-worker's hair design and to signal her liberation from urban rigidity by letting it all hang down can hardly be criticized.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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