In a strangely successful combination, Lake Placid is written by Ally McBeal creator David E. Kelley and directed by Friday 13th Parts 2 and 3 director Steve Miner. Combining fun characters, witty dialogue and excellent special effects, this film is probably the best example of the giant-crocodile subgenre, and if that sounds like damning with faint praise, it’s a genuinely entertaining film all round.
It opens with surly, not-too-bright Sheriff Hank Keough (Brendan Gleeson) taking a marine fish and game officer out onto (fictional) Black Lake in rural Maine to tag beavers. But in a sudden underwater attack the fish and game officer is killed. This prompts the Sheriff to call in additional help for this issue, leading to the arrival of another fish and game officer Jack Wells (Bill Pullman).
New York based paleontologist Kelly Scott (Bridget Fonda), is sent to Maine ostensibly to examine a large tooth removed from the victim, but in fact, to get her out of the museum following a break-up with her boss after he left her for her friend. Her bitterness about the whole situation, and her big-city-girl in the wilds situation provides plenty of comedy in the early part of the film.
The tooth is identified as belonging to a crocodile and the three head to the lake to investigate. Soon they are joined by wealthy and eccentric crocodile enthusiast Hector Cyr (Oliver Platt), who likes to swim with crocodiles and party with deputies.
After some dangerous encounters, they realise that the crocodile is far larger than they imagined, a 30-foot monster that can flip boats and attack helicopters, and the group polarise on whether to try to trap the dangerous animal, or kill it.
The interplay between the four leads is where this film shines, with all on good form. Gleeson’s Hank is surly and a little dim, and the butt of jokes from Pratt’s manic Hector. Fonda’s neurotic Kelly sparks with Pullman’s likable Jack. This leads to fun scenes with excellent dialogue and the four bounce off one-another.
The other standout cast member is Betty White and the foul-mouthed old lady that lives near the lake, because… well, foul mouthed Betty White is funny in its own right. The crocodile itself is an excellently realised animal, using a combination of practical effects from Stand Winston and CGI from Digital Domain. Lake Placid stands as an excellent comedy-thriller, and while light on the serious scares, provides great entertainment, both as an accessible animal-based thriller, and as a sly take on the genre.