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(1999) (Bridget Fonda, Bill Pullman) (R)

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Horror/Comedy: After a thirty-foot long, man-eating crocodile is discovered in a remote Maine lake, a team of disparate characters tries to figure out how to deal with the gargantuan reptile.
When a researcher is brutally killed by an unknown, lake-dwelling creature in the pristine Maine wilderness and a large, prehistoric-looking tooth is found in the victim, office-based paleontologist Kelly Scott (BRIDGET FONDA) is sent to investigate.

She's certainly not one's first choice for such an assignment as she hates the rural outdoors, but since her boss and boyfriend, Kevin (ALAN ARKIN) is having an affair with her coworker and friend, Kelly finds herself choppered into a remote Maine town.

There she meets portly sheriff Hank Keogh (BRENDAN GLEESON), a twinkie-eating officer who hates sarcasm and those who deliver it. A witness to the brutal attack, Hank wants to kill the creature despite not knowing exactly what it is.

Mild-mannered game warden Jack Wells (BILL PULLMAN), however, wants to take a slower course of action so that they can figure out exactly what they have on their hands. While he's not happy to have nature-phobic Kelly tagging along, he's even less pleased upon the arrival of Hector Cyr (OLIVER PLATT). A rich and eccentric mythology professor, Hector tries to convince the team that they're dealing with a huge crocodile and that they should try capturing instead of killing it.

As the uneasy team heads to the placid waters of Black Lake that has only one nearby resident, the feisty Mrs. Bickerman (BETTY WHITE), they begin their investigation. Realizing that they're faced with a thirty-foot long, man-eating crocodile, the team then decides how best to deal with it while having several close calls with the enormous creature.

If they're fans of someone in the cast or of "monster" movies along the lines of "Jaws" or "Anaconda," they probably will.
For violent creature attacks and related gore, and for language.
  • BRIDGET FONDA plays a nature-phobic paleontologist who must not only deal with the huge crocodile, but also several men she doesn't particularly like. Along the way she uses some strong profanity.
  • BRENDAN GLEESON plays the local sheriff who witnessed the initial attack, wants the creature dead, and can't stand the sarcastic people who seem to have surrounded him.
  • BILL PULLMAN plays the more level-headed Game Warden who tries to figure out how to deal with the crocodile. He briefly uses strong profanity.
  • OLIVER PLATT plays an eccentric mythology professor who idolizes crocodiles and often takes unnecessary risks that nearly get him killed. He also uses strong profanity.
  • BETTY WHITE plays a local and somewhat crazy lady who feeds the crocodile (with large cattle) and also uses brief, strong profanity.


    OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
    I've personally been interested in -- okay, perhaps obsessed with -- alligators and their reptilian brethren -- crocodiles and caimans -- ever since I was a kid. My parents had a small ashtray with a stuffed baby gator wrapped around it -- courtesy of a trip to the sunshine state in the late '50s -- and I was always fascinated by this scaly creature with its sharp claws and teeth.

    Apparently, others have had the same reaction -- not to my parents' old ashtray, but to such creatures in general -- and have thus gone out and purchased juvenile versions of them. Of course, those cute little "babies" grow up into large and hungry creatures and when they're no longer welcomed in such homes, they either get dumped into a nearby pond or lake or given a trip through the local sewer system.

    Such real-life stories occasionally hit the news, and while the creatures never survive the winters outside their tropical or semitropical homelands, they clearly caught the eye of Hollywood producers in the past who wished to make a quick buck with the old "There's a monster hiding in the water over there" plot. As such, we got 1980's "Alligator" (penned by independent filmmaker John Sayles) and its inevitable sequel.

    All of which leads us to 20th Century Fox's release of "Lake Placid." While it has absolutely nothing to do with the New York resort that hosted the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, one can easily trace the film's origins back to "creature features" such as "The Creature From the Black Lagoon," "Jaws" and a myriad of films that subsequently followed and tried to emulate Bruce the shark and his summer box office blockbuster success. Not surprisingly, this picture doesn't stray far from that film's successful formula.

    Of course many such efforts have been poorly made bombs in the past (such as 1977's "Tentacles"), but the first thing people may note about this one is that it was penned by David E. Kelley, the writer/producer of the popular and quirky TV lawyer series, "Ally McBeal" and "The Practice."

    Considering the critical acclaim that's followed those shows -- and not even thinking about when Kelley possibly could have scraped up enough time to write this screenplay considering his current work schedule -- one presumably wouldn't be stretching things too much by assuming that this effort should thus be an above par production.

    Well, to keep with the theme and parlance of Kelley's legal shows, the jury has returned with its verdict and finds that the film is guilty. Guilty of offering recycled thrills that are neither scary nor particularly campy enough to succeed in either genre, and for having enough illogical behavior and outright stupidity to fill several slasher horror flicks.

    Of course, that shouldn't come as a great surprise to anyone who's noticed that the film is directed by Steve Miner. One of the creators of the "Friday the 13th" franchise who directed the second and third installments of it and last helmed "Halloween: H20," the latest version of that horror series similarly known for being inhabited by quite stupid people.

    While one could view the incidents of people being attacked, chased and/or killed (because of their illogical behavior) as nature simply weeding out the stupid, today's audiences are too sophisticated to buy into such behavior.

    Even if moviegoers can accept that the world's biggest crocodile, and a foreign breed at that, could swim across the ocean and then take up residence and thrive in the icy cold water of Maine for several years -- and that's a big, no, a gargantuan "even if" -- one simply can't accept the sheer stupidity in which the characters here act.

    Having already witnessed attacks of people in the water and the taking of a large bear from the shoreline, what do the characters here do? They go back into the water, of course, when not spending inordinate amounts of time standing within feet or even inches of the lakeshore. Of course, this comes from the pen/keyboard of a writer who favors gymnastic dismounts from a unisex bathroom stall, so perhaps we shouldn't be quite so surprised.

    Whatever the case, these people must be genetically related to those who appear in horror films and always split up (telling the others to "Wait here") or walk around dark places without turning on the lights.

    Here, the creepy basements and attics have been replaced by standing at the shore, landing a helicopter on the lake, or even scuba diving down into it. While such moments do provide for a few mildly suspenseful moments, the telegraph operator -- I'm sorry, the director -- never stops from clearly letting us know what's going to happen next.

    Consequently, the film is never truly scary along the lines of a picture like "Jaws," although it lifts several scenes from it. After seeing a victim attacked from underwater and then yanked along the surface & a boat being pulled backwards through the lake, I kept waiting for someone to say "You're gonna need a bigger boat" (which they really did), but thankfully that classic line from "Jaws" was left alone.

    Nor is it fun and campy like "Tremors," the 1990 film that featured desert burrowing creatures that kept most of its cast on top of rocks, vehicles and buildings. Far more suspenseful than this film -- simply due to turning the genre on its head (the barely seen beast in the water was replaced by many in the sand) -- that film was clearly nothing more than pure camp. It was, however, extremely effective in maintaining that tone and was nothing short of a blast to watch.

    Despite the presence of "Golden Girls" Betty White as a crazy lake resident who swears like a sailor, the film never successfully hits its camp stride. Granted, it does have some moments, including the graphic, but comic book style gore, a new meaning to "don't feed the wildlife" and some appropriately over-the-top performances. Unfortunately, none of them ever go far enough to truly be crowd pleasers, let alone make one forget the stupidly drawn plot elements.

    For instance, a few minor script changes would have alleviated any such problem. For one, there's no need for the story to take place in Maine, let alone involve an Asian crocodile that apparently swam across the ocean and then -- what, hiked across America or perhaps used the Panama Canal -- to get there? The setting could have been a remote lake even as far north as North Carolina (where alligators do really live).

    Even if the locale had to stay in Maine for some reason, Kelley easily could have included something to the effect of Betty White's husband being a genetic researcher (thus the large croc) who purposefully picked that remote Maine lake for its isolation as well as perhaps a warm spring that constantly fed and kept it warm enough to support such a reptile. They also could have built a winter retreat for it.

    While some may complain that this is nitpicking a film that isn't meant to be taken seriously, such idiocy violates the old "suspension of disbelief" rule. Yes, we can accept a giant crocodile -- heck, it could be sixty feet long for all we care.

    After all, the dinosaurs in "Jurassic Park" were easy to accept. However, certain rules in a film's universe have to either be explained or remain constant with ours for us to accept what occurs. Since this film offers no amendments to our known rules, the incongruity is striking and the film consequently suffers from that.

    Where the film does succeed is in Kelly's characters and their dialogue. Like most of his work, this picture is filled with opinionated, idiosyncratic characters who verbally spar with others, especially to offer a quick sarcastic remark and/or when under duress. The effect is mostly enjoyable, but there is one problem with it.

    The character played by Bridget Fonda ("A Simple Plan," "It Could Happen to You") is so similar to Calista Flockhart's quirky titular one in TV's "Ally McBeal" in the way in which she speaks and acts, that you half expect the rest of Ally's law firm to show up offering legal protection for the harassed crocodile.

    Bill Pullman ("Zero Effect," "Lost Highway"), who often plays somewhat off-center characters, does so again here, but delivers a mostly flat performance, although much of that is directly related to the way his character is underwritten. Better performances come from Brendan Gleeson ("The General," "I Went Down") as the twinky-eating local sheriff and Oliver Platt ("Simon Birch," "Bulworth") as the eccentric croc worshiper.

    While the latter's presumably somewhat modeled after Steve "The Crocodile Hunter" Irwin, it would have been fun had such a brazen and risk-taking "expert" been brought in and then nabbed and eaten in his first encounter with the beast.

    That's ultimately an example of where the picture goes wrong. Instead of going for full-tilt campiness, Miner and company continually repeat the stupid horror material that just makes the film and its characters look bad. The fact that the characters continually stood around the edge of the lake -- and even camped there -- didn't make me nervous like a good horror film should. Instead, it infuriated me that the filmmakers were too lazy to make better choices for their characters or what's become a far more savvy and less gullible audience.

    Finally, to add insult to injury, the entire ending where everyone suddenly develops a conscience when not plotting the dumbest way to lure in the crocodile -- especially after they've seen how a little old lady does it all of the time -- is nothing short of ludicrous and insulting to the audience.

    Although the film offers a few decent sequences and some fun crocodile effects -- courtesy of special effects guru Stan Winston -- most of it's nothing short of a letdown. Not as imaginatively campy as "Tremors" and certainly far from as suspenseful or unnerving as "Jaws," this film will probably last in theaters as long as a real crocodile would in a real Maine lake. As such, we give "Lake Placid" a 3.5 out of 10.

    The following is a brief summary of the content found in this R-rated horror/comedy. Profanity is extreme with at least 12 "f" words being used along with other words and colorful phrases. An extreme amount of violence occurs, with several people -- and animals -- being killed, eaten or maimed by the crocodile (occasionally with very gory results), and by the humans trying to kill the beast.

    As such, those scenes and many others featuring close calls with the crocodile may be suspenseful -- or downright frightening -- to some viewers, especially younger kids who may not get the attempts at campy humor.

    Beyond that, some brief, sexually related comments are made, some drinking occurs, and the characters exchange some sarcastic remarks between one another. The film's other categories, however, have relatively little or nothing in the way of major objectionable content. Since kids may want to see this film, you might want to more closely examine the listed content to determine whether it's appropriate for them or anyone else in your home.

  • Hector and several police officers have drinks and beer during a party in his tent.
  • Jack tells Kelly that they should go for a beer.
  • As a man is pulled into a boat, we see that the bottom half of him is missing and thus briefly see the open, gory and bloody wound at his waist. We also see some blood around his mouth.
  • Later, we see the remains of that victim on a morgue table (obviously still missing the lower part of his body).
  • We see a moose's severed head that's pulled from the water.
  • We see a human toe (belonging to the above victim and covered with worms/maggots) and then later see his severed head (from two views and see a small snake crawl from the half-open mouth).
  • We hear, but don't see Hank peeing in the woods.
  • We see the remains of a dead moose (or similar creature) underwater.
  • The crocodile suddenly lunges up and snaps off a man's head, and we briefly see the bloody stump.
  • We see a slightly bloody cut on Jack's arm.
  • We see some blood from the crocodile's mouth.
  • A crocodile explodes in a briefly seen bloody mess after being shot by an explosive-like shell.
  • We learn that Kelly's boss (and current boyfriend) has had an affair with her coworker and friend.
  • Kelly has a bit of a chip on her shoulder and comes off as somewhat rude and sarcastic to the others.
  • Hector makes fun of Hank's rotundness.
  • Mrs. Bickerman has both for lying about knowing about the crocodile and then for continuing to feed it.
  • The sight of human and animal remains and related gore may be unsettling to some viewers.
  • A researcher scuba dives in the lake and approaches a beaver dam. During this, some suspenseful music plays and we see the point of view of something watching and closing in on him. Eventually he's nabbed and yanked through the water -- both below and on the surface -- and when Hank finally pulls him to safety in a boat, the bottom half of him is missing (and has been bitten off).
  • Kelly and Hector's canoe is suddenly overturned in the lake and they scramble to get out of the water (as we see the point of view of something approaching them from underneath the water).
  • Hank hears something at night in the woods and slowly walks through the trees to investigate.
  • Having lowered a speaker that plays a juvenile crocodile distress call that they know will lure the bigger one, Hector and Jack scuba dive in the lake (where we then see them cautiously swimming through the murky waters).
  • Moments later, something grabs a boat's anchor line and yanks it backwards causing Kelly to fall into the water. Once the boat is let go, Hank and a deputy race to save Kelly who's floating in the water and is exposed to a possible attack.
  • The crocodile suddenly lunges up and snaps off a man's head, allowing us to briefly see the headless body (with a bloody stump where his head was).
  • A large bear suddenly menaces the team.
  • We see footage from a nature show of a real-life crocodile approaching and then grabbing a grazing creature and pulling it into the water.
  • Hector has a very close encounter with the crocodile as he slowly tries to swim back to his helicopter that's floating on the lake. As he and a deputy then try to take off, the crocodile grabs the floatable landing rung and briefly prevents them from taking off.
  • An attempt by the team to lure in the crocodile and capture it creates some tense moments and close calls on the shore (both above and below the water).
  • Handguns/Rifles/Shotgun/Big gun/Tranquilizer Rifles: Used to ward off, sedate or in attempts to kill the crocodile. See "Violence" for details.
  • Phrases: "F*ck off," "Go f*ck yourself," "F*ck sh*t" (what Kelly calls someone on the phone), "Officer f*ck meat" and "If I had a d*ck, this is where I'd tell you to suck it" (what Mrs. Bickerman calls and then tells Hank), Holy sh*t," "Cut the sh*t," "Horny," "Balls" (for "nuts" as in crazy or meaning testicles -- the explanation isn't made), "Fruitcakes" and "Nuts" (crazy).
  • Hector makes fun of Hank telling him that the longer he lives "the more sex you can have with your sister."
  • A beaver suddenly jumps past a man.
  • A man is suddenly yanked down and out of a beaver dam.
  • A crocodile suddenly bites off a man's head.
  • A spring-loaded trap suddenly yanks Hank up into the air.
  • A few more instances of crocodiles suddenly appearing or jumping out at people also occur.
  • An extreme amount of suspenseful music plays during the film.
  • None.
  • At least 12 "f" words, 10 "s" words, 2 slang terms using male genitals ("d*ck" and "c*cks*cker"), 1 slang term for breasts ("boobs"), 4 hells, 3 asses (2 used with "hole"), 1 damn and 7 uses of "Jesus," 4 of "God," 3 each of "Jesus Christ" and "Oh my God" and 1 use each of "G-damn," "Christ," "Swear to God," "Oh God," "For Christ's sakes" and "For God's sakes."
  • Kelly asks a female deputy whether the local males get "horny" in the woods as happened in the movie "Deliverance."
  • Hector suddenly blurts out to Jack about Kelly, "Did she tell you that we had sex together?" She responds, "I never had sex with you." He then admits that he's "horrible in bed" and that they thus never remember.
  • Hector tells a female deputy "you have such big, wonderful boobs" (and she's not offended by that). When Hank tells her to leave, Hector asks if she can stay since they have to "mate."
  • Hector makes fun of Hank telling him that the longer he lives "the more sex you can have with your sister."
  • Hector tells Hank, "You can chew the fat of my big fat log" causing Hector to ask Kelly if that's a homosexual remark.
  • When Kelly innocently tells Jack "we should go to bed" (in their separate quarters), he briefly misinterprets her statement.
  • As a female deputy tries to stop Hector from going into the lake, she finally offers, "I'll have sex with you" (but he still goes).
  • None.
  • None.
  • How a crocodile -- especially one that big and reportedly from a foreign country -- could have gotten to Maine and then survived there for that long (especially during the brutally cold winter months).
  • Why people in horror films always do stupid things (the people here continue to stand by the edge of the water, go out in small boats, etc... when they've seen what the crocodile can do).
  • That crocodiles and alligators aren't in all lakes and that one shouldn't feed them.
  • A man is grabbed by the crocodile and yanked through the water. When he's finally pulled out, we see that the crocodile has bitten/torn him in half.
  • Mrs. Bickerman confesses to killing her husband with a skillet (to put him out of his misery of failing health), but we later learn this isn't true.
  • Kelly twice smacks Hank after she thinks he deliberately tossed a moose's head near her.
  • The crocodile suddenly lunges up and snaps off a man's head, and we briefly see the bloody stump.
  • The crocodile grabs a large bear and pulls it into the water.
  • After Hector challenges him to do so, Hank punches him in the face, knocking him to the ground.
  • We see footage from a nature show of a real-life crocodile grabbing an animal drinking at a shoreline and pulling it into the water.
  • We see the crocodile grab a cow and yank it into the water.
  • The crocodile grabs a helicopter's floatable landing rung and briefly chews on it, preventing it from taking off, causing a deputy to open fire on the crocodile with her gun.
  • A helicopter crashes into the lake.
  • The crocodile attacks a truck and everyone on it shoots the crocodile.
  • A crocodile suddenly attacks a man and is then blown to bits by a canon-like gun.

  • Reviewed June 14, 1999 / Posted July 16, 1999

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