Thursday, October 18, 2018

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Lake Placid (1999)

The movie podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood's monster-movie month rolls along with Lake Placid, a 1999 film about a saltwater crocodile living in Maine. You know, where it'd freeze to death pretty quickly. I didn't see this when it was in theaters, but I do remember wanting to--my parents didn't let me see a lot of R-rated movies, especially ones that were poorly-reviewed or otherwise lacking in some redeeming quality--and although I can't say I jumped at the chance to see it, I did want to see if it held up.

Here's the podcast. Now for the review...


Plot

In rural Maine, a fish and game officer is bitten in half in the fictional Black Lake while studying the beaver population. A reptilian tooth is recovered from his body, prompting Jack Wells (Bill Pullman), who is also a fish and game officer, and Sheriff Hank Keough (Brendan Gleeson) to contact what is obviously the American Museum of Natural History in New York for assistance from a paleontologist. Workplace romantic drama leads to Kelly Scott (Bridget Fonda) getting sent to investigate and soon eccentric billionaire Hector Cyr (Oliver Platt) arrives to make things even more fun.

It turns out that the lake is home to a saltwater crocodile that has developed a taste for human flesh. The dysfunctional (that's how the Wikipedia article describes them) quartet soon find themselves fighting for their lives. And what does the cranky old lady Delores Bickerman (Betty White) have to do with their situation?

The Good

*After an excessively long opening credits sequence (more on that later), the movie moves along at a decent pace. It's less than 90 minutes long.

*There are some funny bits. Wells and Keough lusting after a teenage girl in the town much to Scott's disgust, a sequence involving a moose, and some of Hector's more bizarre utterances were amusing. There's also a joke about eminent domain.

*Betty White is pretty amusing as the old lady who lives by the lake. I liked her introductory sequence and how much of a gigantic smart-ass she is. And although Hector is oftentimes obnoxious, I found how Platt handled his complete lack of tact funny, at least some of the time.

*We don't see the crocodile very much early on, avoiding the problem of way too much awful CGI that marred Eight-Legged Freaks, which I complained quite a lot about in (my review) and (on the podcast). Think Jaws, where the shark stayed mostly off-camera until the end. And most of the time they seem to be using practical effects or decent-quality CGI.

*The sequence involving panicking fish foreshadowing a monster attack I thought was creative and well-done. And there's no need to actually see anything.

The Bad

*The opening goes on for entirely too long. It's not nearly as bad as the opening of Spawn--you can see my commentary on that here--but let's cut to the chase people.

*Most of the characters aren't particularly sympathetic. Keogh has a chip on his shoulder about people more educated or from bigger cities looking down on him and pretty much every character from outside the town is snotty to varying degrees, so he's pretty much right. Scott is, as TVTropes would put it, an excruciatingly obnoxious Straw Feminist, a stereotypically snotty New Yorker, and incredibly high maintenance. All she does is complain, sneer at the locals (with the exception of a female sheriff's deputy), and act like everything she doesn't like is motivated by sexism. In her defense there is some of that going on too, especially from Keogh, which just serves to make other other characters less sympathetic too. And Hector is so utterly obnoxious to the locals that even Scott comes to their defense. The almighty TVTropes calls this "Developing Doomed Characters" or "Twenty Minutes With The Jerks."

*As far as the quality of the acting is concerned, they've got a lot of actors with decent resumes but nobody other than Betty White is particularly impressive. Bill Pullman was one of the more well-known actors of the 1990s, but he seemed particularly nonexistent.

*There's a poorly done romantic subplot that should have either been better developed or excised completely. The two characters could bond over their shared disdain for Hector or it could be something obviously brought on by the survival situation (I think this comes up in the movie Speed), but there's really very little substance to it.

*Heck, there's a second poorly-done romantic subplot, which seems to be mostly setup for a character to offer to sleep with another character if they don't do something stupid. This one has even less substance and seems to exist pretty much to set up a single joke. Blargh.

The Verdict

Improved special effects can't save the film from an obnoxious, unsympathetic bunch of characters even if it is fast moving. 5.5 out of 10.

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