Lake Placid is the perfect antidote for anyone who has suffered through Deep Blue Sea (1999). It has everything its predecessor lacks: wit, craft, inventiveness and a little bit of daring.
The very similar poster art for the two films declares what they have in common. In both, an unnaturally large and intelligent sea creature – here, a crocodile – menaces a small community furiously attempting to contain it. The fact that we only ever see this beast when it lurches out of the water now and again enhances the mystery of its origin and motivation.
The similarities end there. Where Deep Blue Sea was solemn, corny and unbelievable, Lake Placid draws us into its game sense of humour – without entirely relinquishing the scary, thrilling stuff.
Producer-writer David E. Kelley – very much the auteur of this project – cooks up an idiosyncratic brew of Northern Exposure, Piranha (1978) and an old-fashioned screwball comedy. References to such classics as Bringing Up Baby (1938) begin from the moment that Kelly (Bridget Fonda), a neurotic paleontologist, poses beside an enormous animal skeleton.
Escaping a romantic disaster, Kelly travels to the wilds of Black Lake in search of a crocodile that should not be there. She forms a motley crew with the stoic, local warden, Jack (Bill Pullman), the short-tempered sheriff, Hank (Brendan Gleeson from The General ), and prissy Professor Hector (Oliver Platt).
Most of the film is devoted to the insults, blows, power games and fraught negotiations that go on between these four hilarious characters. The addition of elderly Delores (Betty White) and her secretive, casually amoral ways sharpens further still the prevailing comedy of manners – and evokes pleasant memories of Alfred Hitchcock's The Trouble with Harry (1955).
Lake Placid is a light, swift film that could so easily have degenerated into one-joke whimsy. It remains consistently fresh due to the cleverness of the writing, the suppleness of the cast (Pullman is especially good at self-parody) and the busy pace wisely imposed by director Steve Miner.
© Adrian Martin October 1999