Thursday, October 8, 2015

Lake Placid (1999, Movie Review)

        Earlier this month I reviewed the 1997 monster movie “Anaconda”, and in that review I referred to it as the pore mans version of “Jaws”. Now the bar is set even lower, because today’s review is of the 1999 creature feature titled “Lake Placid”, and this film is honestly the pore mans version of “Anaconda” ... yeah, that’s how low where sinking with this movie. While I freely admit “Anaconda” wasn’t a great movie, it still had its charms, it was entertaining, and it was at the very least kind of a memorable movie experience. “Lake Placid” on the other hand is about as average as monster movies get, it’s boring, it’s forgettable, the characters all suck and the comedy is beyond absurd. I get the impression that this movie was trying to be a blend of scary and funny, but it fails spectacularly on both counts.

      So, with a title like “Lake Placid”, you don’t get much of a clue as to what the killer animal is going to be, in fact the monster could be anything ranging from a lake shark to the creature from the Black Lagoon. Well ... obviously it’s none of the above, the carnivore in this movie is actually a crocodile. A giant 30 foot long prehistoric crocodile that apparently survived over thousands of years, and settled in a lake where he poses a threat to all visitors. After an investigation, the local sheriff rounds up a small team to hunt down the beast. Now typically in a situation like this, you’ll have that one jerk that will try to protect the monster in order to make a fortune. Well, this movie takes a different approach, instead ... everyone wants to protect this killer Crocodile, but not for greedy reasons. These people view this crocodile as a wonder of nature that needs to be preserved and studied rather then killed. So unlike most movies that feature an animal gone bad, the main conflict isn’t finding a way to slay the beast, it’s all about trying to trap it without killing it. I suppose that’s kind of unique, and a good effort to do something different with the formula, but they just can’t leave well enough alone. We actually have a subplot involving an old woman who’s secretly feeding the beast her live stock, and treats it like a pet.

      Personally, it just makes me wish I was watching “Jaws”, which nailed the excitement of man versus monster perfectly. Speaking of “Jaws”, this movie completely fails to capture that same tension and fear. Even if you live in an area where Crocodiles have been sited, I doubt this film would capture that same paranoia of stepping into a lake the same way “Jaws” scared people from going to the beach. Now in all seriousness, crocodiles in general are dangerous, have had their fare share of violent encounters with people, and the concept isn’t without some potential, it’s just handled very poorly. The monster effects are serviceable at best, it has its really fake CGI moments, but there are some good animatronic close-ups, which are slightly intimidating. 

      The first and biggest problem with this movie that shoots it right in the foot are the lead human characters. I could almost give the movie credit for not featuring any of the typical teenage stereotypes that usually plague these films, but it doesn’t change the fact that the characters are still insufferable. The dialog is atrocious, I mean it is bad ... just bad. Every line has some kind of pun aimed at the mail anatomy, the attempts at hummer are cringe inducing, and it really just didn’t look like a fun movie to act in, which is a shame because there’s a fairly talented cast here. This includes Oliver Platt as a researcher on Croc’s, Bridget Fonda who plays the female lead, Brendan Gleeson plays the sheriff, and he’s fairly well known for his role as Mad Eye Moody from the Harry Potter series, as well as epic war movies like “Brave Heart” and “Troy”. Most notably is Bill Pullman in the lead role, and of course he’s a very recognizable actor from movies like “Independence Day” and “Space Balls”, but he does the movie no favors. The banter between these people are terrible, and it’s just hurtful to see a half way decent cast wasted like this.

      The second biggest setback to the movie is that it’s surprisingly boring, with very little creature action and a very annoying focus on the human characters. The encounters with the Crocodile are mildly exciting at first, but the formula get’s very repetitive after a while. There’s only so many times that you can get a thrill from watching someone flung out of a boat, only for them to get back in completely unscathed. There isn’t even much of a body count, two people get attacked in the first thirty minutes of the movie, and that’s it, there really aren’t anymore human casualties in the movie after that. It’s hardly even worth talking about the climax, they lure the Crocodile to shore, shoot at it a little, capture it and then the movie actually forces us to feel sympathy for the beast as our lead hero prepares to execute it. Well ... in a surprisingly rare twist, they spare the life of the killer Crocodile and send him off somewhere. But then our hero’s are attacked by a second Crocodile that the characters immediately kill, so what the heck? They were treating it like a moral sin to kill the first Croc, but it’s perfectly okay to slay the second one, what sense does that make?

     There’s a scene at the end in which we see the old lady raising the crocodiles baby’s, which was meant to be a joke, but it actually became the setup for sequels, lots and lots of terrible squeals. This includes “Lake Placid 2” in 2007, “Lake Placid 3” in 2010 and “Lake Placid: The Final Chapter” in 2012, hopefully that really was the last. I vaguely remember watching the second one on TV and being completely disinterested in it, so I never bothered to watch any of the other films in the series. I doubt that any of them are that good, and their probably all even worse than their predecessor. Oh wait, there was also “Lake Placid vs Anaconda” in 2015, which could have some potential for a fun monster crossover, but I doubt it will be anything special. Even the 1996 movie “Crocodile” and its 2001 sequel “Crocodile 2: Death Swamp” were more fun, in that cheep B monster movie fashion. While “Lake Placid” wasn’t the first movie to utilize the gimmick of a killer Crocodile, it’s probably the most popular. In 2008 there was another killer Crocodile movie titled “Rogue”, which was outstanding by B monster movie standards, in fact, it’s one of the five best animal attack movies I’ve ever seen. The characters were likable, there was honest tension and the creature effects were amazing. So why can’t that be the more popular killer Crocodile movie?  

     As for “Lake Placid”, it’s really just not worth seeing at all, even if you’re a junky for animal attack movies. Honestly, I get more of a thrill watching the 2002 film “The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course”, than I do watching “Lake Placid”. While I’ve definitely seen worse movies then this, it’s still pretty bad, even on the merits of a cheap B monster movie. The characters are beyond wooden, the action isn’t that thrilling, the monster isn’t that exciting, and if you really want a fun or passively diverting animal attack movie, just watch “Rogue” instead. Now I know some people like this movie, and may even call it an improvement over something like “Anaconda”, and if you do like this ... fine, it’s just not for me.

                                                     I give “Lake Placid”, 1 ½ stars out of 5.  

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