Lake Placid (1999)

Lake Placid (1999)

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They were more than ready for the imminent arrival of Oliver Platt.
They were more than ready for the imminent arrival of Oliver Platt.

Twitter Plot Summary: A giant crocodile causes havoc in a small lakeside town. Everyone tries to be more sarcastic than the next person.

Five Point Summary:

1. Apparently this is not the best lake to swim in.
2. Sarcasm. Lots of sarcasm.
3. Oliver Platt, welcome.
4. That’s a big alligator.
5. Things go boom.

What exactly did happen to Bill Pullman? The answer is that in reality he didn’t go anywhere, in fact he’s been making films and TV series with some regularity in the fifteen years since Lake Placid was released, it’s just that none of them have had the same level of saturation and/or success as this, his last big film of the 1990s, a decade in which he could seemingly do no wrong.

Bill Pullman is just the tip of this casting iceberg, with the likes of Brendan Gleeson, Oliver Platt, Bridget Fonda and Betty White adding big name support to what is an inherently B or even C grade creature feature. Where Lake Placid differs from its low budget brethren is that it finds the right balance between the gory aspects and the pitch perfect comedy, and embraces the fact there is little here beyond a big creature and massive levels of sarcasm.

Lake Placid doesn’t outstay its welcome by clocking in at just over 80 minutes, yet it also doesn’t rush at unveiling the creature. Instead a good portion of time is spent on that rarest of things – character development. That is, development of their sarcasm genes. It seems everybody involved in the hunt for the man-eating crocodile is automatically antagonistic to everybody else, and that’s no bad thing. They do say that conflict is key to a good story after all. As the group of Sheriff Keough (Gleeson), paleontology expert Kelly Scott (Fonda) and Fish and Game chap Jack Wells (Pullman) begin their investigation into the death of a diver and the creature that caused it, the arguments begin almost immediately. Oliver Platt soon jets in like a rock star, a crocodile expert who decides to assist in the investigation, setting up further opportunity for everyone to complain and throw in amusing bon mots every now and again. If deadpan delivery could win academy awards, everyone in this cast would have been nominated.

The lengths some fishermen will go to to get a bite...
The lengths some fishermen will go to to get a bite…

When the creature does show up, it’s worth the wait, not only because the scares are effective but also because the sarcasm and confrontational attitudes somehow increase in intensity. The CGI isn’t all that bad given the film’s age, and are balanced nicely by the use of some nice practical effects for the creature close-ups. In many respects it’s a typical late-90s production, putting a mixture of older and newer effect techniques to good use. It’s also an incredibly shallow film (no water-based pun intended) if you take away the arguments and sarcasm, but it provides entertainment and for that alone it rates far higher than your traditional creature feature.

It may not be highbrow cinema, but Lake Placid is pure entertainment and it’s surprising that nobody else has tried to replicate this formula elsewhere. Where the plot is liable to be just another standard creature feature with generic performances, characters and dialogue, give your characters a bit of an attitude and see what happens. Based on what Lake Placid achieved, it certainly wouldn’t hurt.

Score: 4/5

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