LAKE PLACID (1999)
(Directed by Steve Miner)
(Written by David E. Kelley)
(Starring Bridget Fonda, Bill Pullman and Oliver Platt)
Plot: A giant crocodile terrorizes people on a lake, and it’s up to a city slicking Paleontologist (Bridget Fonda), a Fish and Game officer (Bill Pullman), an eccentric Crocodile tracker (Oliver Platt) and the local Sheriff (Brendan Gleeson) to stop it.
When “Scream” was a smash success with audiences, horror suddenly became mainstream. Us fans were thrilled when our beloved genre was beginning to command big budgets, were luring respectable actors into their productions and would continue to have R-ratings. What followed was the most spectacular ass-kicking of horror fanboys that cinema has ever seen. Studios would cram obnoxious attempts at humor down our throats, would flaunt gratuitous and poorly rendered CGI and play it incredibly safe so that they would not offend its viewers by killing off a likable character. These films were often bad, but they’d poke fun at their own badness, which confused people into thinking ‘bad’ was suddenly ‘good’. It was a dark time for horror. It was…the 90’s *cue dramatic music*. Enter “Lake Placid”, a killer Crocodile flick that would represent everything I loathe about the dreaded decade.
Actually, the tragic thing about “Lake Placid” is despite its 90’s handicap, it almost is fairly entertaining. It did have respectable production values, which crystallized with the superb cast. You had Bill Pullman, Bridget Fonda, Oliver Platt, Brendan Gleeson, Betty White and Natassia Malthe. Okay, in retrospect, some of these casting choices are rather bizarre and should clue you in to the kind of movie you’re about to watch. Oliver Platt and Betty White are known for their more comedic roles and Natassia Malthe…I’m not entirely sure why I included the chick from “BloodRayne 3” in this list, but I know who she is, so…yeah…For the most part, these actors aren’t slumming it either. Sure, Pullman is kind of boring, but he’s also playing a very flat character. But Platt and White are having fun and Brendan Gleeson was my favorite part about the movie. Bridget Fonda is also having fun, but…lets just say that she alarmed me more than the crocodile. I’ll talk about that more later….”Lake Placid” also has an incredibly fast pace, so even when I wanted to punch myself in the face in annoyance, I can’t say I was ever bored. But what went wrong? Besides everything else…
I liked the practical effects a lot. It looked like these characters were being stalked by a real crocodile and this made some of the confrontations fairly suspenseful (Platt Vs Croc: Round 1). Unfortunately, the 90’s were more interested in CGI and that was in its early stages. The end result is that sometimes the crocodile will morph into a PlayStation 2 effect. It probably looked fine back in 1999, but the big downside to using so much CGI is that it ages horrendously. Even worse, the practical and CGI effects don’t blend together at all, so you’ll have a very realistic crocodile for one shot followed by an insanely phony looking crocodile the next. When you place bad CGI next to strong practical effects, it will only make the CGI look worse than it really is. I find it odd that the shark from “Jaws” still holds up better than a movie made 25 years later. Luckily for those who were responsible for the CGI, the dated effects are the least of “Lake Placid”’s problems.
“Lake Placid” tries too hard to be funny. I will admit that Brendan Gleeson made me laugh, primarily because even though he has his comical moments, the actor is mostly playing it straight. Everyone else is too busy winking at the camera. Oliver Platt and Bridget Fonda tend to be the worst offenders, although Platt didn’t annoy me as much. He has a well placed F-bomb that made me smile and while most of his jokes misfire, I could tolerate him. Everything that came out of Bridget Fonda’s mouth pissed me off. In her first scene, she gets dumped by her boyfriend for her best friend and we’re supposed to feel bad for her, but it’s hard too when every scene she’s in makes her out to be a bitch. She’s crass, arrogant and complains A LOT! She’s from the city, so she doesn’t like camping in tents, being near bugs, etc. This is all played for laughs, but it’s groan inducing. It’s also immensely clichéd. How many times do I need to see this same scenario replay over and over again? I don’t blame Bridget Fonda as much as I blame the writer and director. The writer wrote her dialogue/characterization and the director apparently told her to play up her obnoxious mannerisms (or failed to tell her to tone them down). Nevertheless, this character RUINED “Lake Placid” for me.
But the problem with Kelly (Fonda’s character) goes beyond her startling ability to give me migraines. She also diminishes what little suspense there could’ve been. You see, “Lake Placid” makes the mistake of falling in love with its own cast. Maybe during the writing stage, the filmmakers began to like their characters too much or maybe it’s because they were being played by famous actors- who wouldn’t want to be killed off. Regardless, you never feel that any of them is in danger. Only two characters die and they were extras. Maybe the lack of deaths was because they didn’t want to betray the goofy tone, but the only person who seems to be in consistent danger is our…not so beloved heroine. She’s constantly falling in the water and the director cues the fake “Jaws” music and utilizes his POV shots, indicating that she’s being stalked. But we know that the main freaking character isn’t going to be killed in the first 30 minutes. This is a problem that the entire cast has. We don’t ever believe any of them will die, but it’s her who keeps being thrown in harms way, which MAGNIFIES the issue. Had Brendan Gleeson get thrown in the water more, maybe I could toy with the possibility that he won’t make it out. But not the freaking main character! This was the downside to horror becoming mainstream. Because if your movie was expensive, you’re less likely to take risks and I doubt a lot of these actors would allow their characters to die. You might be wondering why I would acknowledge that some of the confrontations were suspenseful early on, but now claim that the movie as a whole isn’t suspenseful. Well, that’s just it. Sometimes the director works his magic and can create a handful of good moments. A handful of good moments- and I’m being generous with the word ‘handful’- does not reflect an entire movie.
But let’s face it, even if “Lake Placid” had balls, it wouldn’t have been scary. Generally, the director doesn’t hold any shot long enough for any sense of unease to sink in. He sort of emulates “Jaws” at times, but it comes across as kind of insulting. It pretty much uses all of the conventions spawned by that great classic, from underwater characters turning around only to see…a fish…instead of the crocodile. But the camerawork, over-the-top musical cues and the actors mannerisms just come across as silly. Many have justified this by claiming “Lake Placid” is supposed to be intentionally bad. First off, I think that’s bullshit. Recently, I reviewed “Tucker & Dale Vs Evil” and while that might’ve poked fun at the bad attributes of the genre, it was wasn’t bad itself. It was surprisingly smart and well crafted. Intentionally bad movies are still bad and only a moron would ever want to make one. If you’re going to do a parody or satire, then even that requires some degree of comic timing. I never even found the badness to be amusing. Granted, maybe it was because I was being overwhelmed by Bridget Fonda’s shrieking…but that doesn’t necessarily help the movie.
So “Lake Placid” is the deranged mating between horror and comedy, but ends up being neither scary or funny. What’s shocking is that this was directed by Steve Miner, who is one of those directors whose talent seemed to dwindle with age. During the 1980’s, he delivered quite a few cult classics: “Friday the 13th Part 2“, “Friday the 13th Part 3“, “House” and “Warlock“. They were pretty cool horror flicks, often being pretty funny in a darkly humorous kind of way. But during the 90’s, Miner’s sense of humor became a bit too trendy. For some bizarre reason, he was chosen to helm a Tom Arnold/Rick Moranis comedy called “Big Bully” (it sucked). He simultaneously revived and ruined the Halloween franchise with “Halloween H20“, which had a “Scream“-style sense of humor (it sucked). Then came “Lake Placid“, solidifying him as a former great-turned hack. I think the problem was that he didn’t truly understand the times (the 90’s), despite his attempts to cater to the tends. Yes, the 90’s were confusing because bad was considered the new good. But that’s also an over-simplification. “Scream” worked because it was a good movie that knew how to poke fun at itself, whereas…lets say “I Know What You Did That Summer” was bad in spite of the fact that it knew how to poke fun at itself. Yet it also was a huge hit, as many of the 90’s horror flicks were. Here is a closer example: “The Mummy (1999)“. It actually had the EXACT same ambitions as “Lake Placid“. It wanted to combine comedy, horror, action and state of the art effects in order to create an epic, blockbuster-thriller. Yet I like that one. Why? It’s simple. As over-the-top and silly as it could be, it didn’t try to sell ‘bad’ as ‘good’. But that’s only if I buy into the ‘intentionally bad’ argument. I just think “Lake Placid” is a failed comedy/horror. If you believe the badness was intentional, let me remind you that Miner’s “Day of the Dead (2008)” could also be argued as that. Even if that was the intention, does it matter? Miner seems to think that if he makes a shitty movie, but makes it clear that he knows he’s making a shitty movie, that automatically makes it good. That’s just not true and I think it’s dangerous to even consider that logic. “Lake Placid” is just another example as to why that logic never works.
Shockingly, a sequel was made. Wait, it became a trilogy? No? FOUR FILMS! Zoiks! I’ve only seen “Lake Placid 2” and it sucks for more conventional reasons. It had crap writing, acting, directing and special effects. I might despise “Lake Placid“, but at least it fails due to unusual reasons. As I said earlier, “Lake Placid“- for all of its…many, many faults- at least isn’t boring. I can’t concretely damn the visual effects because for the time, they were pretty good and the practical effects are stunning, even if this backfired and made the CGI look that much more awful in comparison. I can’t say the acting was bad because even though the performances are noisy, that seems to be the point. Even the writing isn’t THAT bad, if you overlook everything having to do with Bridget Fonda’s character. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to overlook Bridget Fonda’s character as she is so unforgivably obnoxious. The sequel might’ve been inferior on every level, but I still kind of prefer it, as the lesser of two evils simply because it doesn’t have Bridget Fonda’s Kelly. Ugh, these movies suck. If you want to see a real horror-comedy involving crocodiles watch “Alligator“. Okay, that might be an alligator instead of a crocodile but…shut up! Hell, I’d even take Tobe Hooper’s “Crocodile” over this. Or “Crocodile 2“! Yet deep down…part of me is actually curious about the rest of the franchise. Pray for me….
Violence: Rated R. There are two kills and they aren’t bad.
Nudity: None, although there is some sexual-oriented dialogue.
Overall: I don’t like “Lake Placid“, but it does have its fans. If anything about it sounds interesting to you, then maybe get a second opinion before making your decision as to whether or not you should watch it.