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LAKE PLACID

I wish I could come up with something more original, but after seeing Lake Placid only twenty four hours after The Sixth Sense, I can think of no more appropriate opening line than "from the sublime to the ridiculous". I expected very little of this film, and that’s exactly what it delivered. To be fair, there were a couple of things about it that I did like. The crocodile effects were, in the main, pretty good. I was particularly pleased that most of them were achieved through animatronics and model-work (courtesy of Stan Winston), not CGI, giving substance to the killer croc and heightening the overall impact of the scenes. And I must confess, I also liked the fact that the croc is captured and not killed at the end, even if there had to be some swift, unconvincing plot-twisting to allow it to happen. Although the completely unprepared-for appearance of a second crocodile seems to be purely for the gosh-what-a-surprise last scene kicker, my suspicion is that this contrivance was really to let the film-makers to have it both ways, allowing them to blow up one crocodile while rescuing the other. Anyway, that’s about it for what I liked about Lake Placid. Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of what I didn’t like. The horror-comedy is a tricky business. More often than not the finished product ends up falling between two stools, being neither very funny nor very scary. This is Lake Placid’s problem in a nutshell. Its screenplay, by alleged television genius David E. Kelley, served as a salutary reminder to me of just why I gave up watching television. In making every moment of death or violence into no more than an excuse for a "witty" remark, the script not only undercuts its own potential to horrify, it makes its characters come across as a thoroughly unlikable bunch of people. The actors try hard, but really, what can they do when they’re struggling with a script that makes them look crueller and stupider every time they open their mouths? For the first half of the film, Bridget Fonda’s palaeontologist is absolutely intolerable. Her whining, shrieking and idiotic behaviour made me want to hit her. She is less irritating once the action sequences kick in, but only because she has less to say, concentrating instead upon falling into the water at every conceivable opportunity. Oliver Platt has a few mildly funny moments, but his character is never credible for a second. Betty White’s performance is nothing less than an embarrassment. Bill Pullman skates through the film with a minimum of effort. His park ranger may be the least objectionable of the characters, if only because he has less dialogue than the others do. Overall, though, I found my sympathies most with Brendan Gleeson’s Sheriff Keough. Keough opens the film by complaining that everyone seems to consider a small town sheriff a natural target for ridicule. The problem isn’t so much that the film’s other characters take that attitude, as that this attitude seems to be shared by scriptwriter Kelley, who clearly feels that subjecting Gleeson’s character to incessant abuse is the height of sophisticated wit. It is a huge relief when the crocodile takes centre stage, forcing the cast into action instead of words. Unfortunately, that action consists largely of one cliché after another. Mixed in with a string of gross-out scenes there for no other reason than to provoke a loud "Ewwww!!" from the audience are two things high on my list of Scenes We’ve Seen Quite Often Enough: a victim of an underwater assailant being dragged along above the surface (something I haven’t seen since--- Gee, I dunno, Deep Blue Sea?); and a helicopter crash (something I haven’t seen since--- Gee, I dunno, Deep Blue Sea?). The lack of imagination demonstrated throughout Lake Placid is simply infuriating. All of which begs the question, why was this film even made? Possibly because its producers were aiming it at an audience young enough not to be aware that Lewis Teague and John Sayles did all of this nearly twenty years ago, and did it so much better, with Alligator, a film superior to Lake Placid in every way. Its characters are interesting, complex, and likable; its scare scenes are scarier; its gross-outs just as gross; and its dialogue immeasurably funnier. Instead of insulting its audience’s intelligence, Alligator plays to it, knowing full well that it is being watched by people who love monster movies just as much as the guys who made it. In contrast, Lake Placid is a cynical effort by someone who hopefully will realise that he’s found his true calling writing for network television. Frankly, I think that David E. Kelley ought to stick to his mini-skirted monster. She may not be as convincing as Lake Placid’s crocodile, but she’s infinitely more horrifying.

And You Call Yourself a Scientist