Lake Placid

At one time in our cultural history, David E. Kelly was important – so important that almost anything he did received a kind of unrealistic admiration that time has tempered and/or tainted. Before the application of years, efforts like ‘Picket Fences,’ ‘Chicago Hope,’ ‘The Practice,’ and ‘Ally McBeal’ played as groundbreaking and envelope pushing. Today, they pale in comparison to such real TV masterworks as ‘The Sopranos,’ ‘Mad Men,’ ‘Game of Thrones,’ and ‘The Walking Dead.’ However, at the height of his passing popularity, Kelly commanded a certain amount of respect, with studios eager to work with him at any cost.

The result is something like ‘Lake Placid,’ a genre comedy coming off the horror movie mash-up ‘Scream,’ both meant to take the piss out of the fright flick while (trying) to deliver the shivers true fans come to expect. With Steve “Friday the 13th” Miner in tow as director, and an able cast including Bill Pullman, Bridget Fonda, Oliver Platt, Brendan Gleeson, and what may be the first recorded incident of a salty mouthed Betty White, the ‘Jaws’-lite title was thin on terror, heavy on kitsch and camp. While audiences made it a moderate hit, Kelly never again returned to the big screen.lakeplacid2

It’s not hard to see why. The story is beyond superficial. While escorting a Fish and Game Officer studying beaver habits, Sheriff Hank Keough’s (Gleeson) boat is attacked and his passenger “bitten” in half. For some reason, a tooth fragment leads a NYC paleontologist (Fonda) to the small Maine town, where she comes face to face with Chief Wildlife something-or-other Jack Wells (Pullman), followed closely by an eccentric adventurer and crocodile enthusiast Hector Cyr (Platt). Turns out there is a massive reptile in the lake, and local resident Delores Bickerman (White) may have something to do with it. They do battle with the beast. They never say “we’re gonna need a bigger boat.” Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Considering it does very little besides setting up its narrative and delivering the CG monster, one could argue that ‘Lake Placid’ is rather effective. It doesn’t aim to be overly artistic or strive to mix more satire into its already heady blend of fear and funny business. Of course, in 1999, such a stratagem was fresh and fun. Now, it’s as old as the mold on Ms. Fonda’s career fortunes. Kelly’s idea of a joke is to mock Oliver Platt’s size, Fonda’s fish out of water wobbliness, and a post-Golden Girls White’s potty mouth. Need a laugh. Just get the aging actress to say one of several salty several syllable swears and it’s chuckle city.

Nothing else here is that fun, however. Because CG was still in its infancy (‘Jurassic Park’ was a mere six years previous), Stan Winston was called in to realize the oversized croc, and while the physical effects are excellent, they fail to meld flawlessly with what the computer has to offer, and even then, the various animals realized – cows, bears, etc. – just look fake. We’re far from the days when Matt Reeves can make an entire movie out of motherboard monkeys, and such limitations show in ‘Lake Placid.’ Even the performers aren’t convinced that what they are doing onscreen will translate once the post-production polish is applied.lakeplacid3

That being said, this is a decent B-movie romp, a Saturday afternoon piffle that doesn’t pile on the social consciousness subtext or gratuitous blood and gore. In fact, ‘Lake Placid’ could pass for the kind of movie SyFy specializes in today if it weren’t for the constant F-bombs and other colorful language. There are two splatter effects, one on camera and the other hidden behind a massive water splash. None of our main characters are serious hurt and the level of dread is comparable to Walt Disney World ala the Haunted Mansion. Back in 1980, John Sayles crafted a clever satire on the man vs. animal film with his intriguing ‘Alligator.’ ‘Lake Placid’ might think of itself as the croc version of same, but it’s not.

It should be said, however, that Scream Factory does a delightful job of bringing the product to the Blu-ray format. Loaded with intriguing added content, including a modern making-of, a series of interviews, and the typical TV spot/trailer material, there’s enough backstory on hand to satisfy the fan and interest the newbie. As for the image, the widescreen 1080p transfer is colorful and clear, so much so that you can see the stubble on Platt’s face and the wrinkles around White’s eyes. The sound design does little to give the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 much to work with, but the mix does accentuate our fake fiend’s guttural growl. Overall, it’s a good package, precisely what Shout! Factory’s fear label Scream Factory is known for.

Since his heralded heyday, Kelly’s muse has fallen on hard times. His last seven shows tanked, with one (an attempt at bringing Wonder Woman back to the small screen) cancelled before the pilot was show (meaning it was never made, even after it was picked up). Looking back, one could see ‘Lake Placid’ as the beginning of the end. It’s derivative, not daring, forced when the funny business should flow organically. Even the ending, which suggests sequels, is anticlimactic (though there would be three TV-movie installments to the “franchise”). For some, ‘Lake Placid’ is a classic. For others, a better title would be ‘Lake Flaccid.’