A fussy, mosquito-phobic New York paleontologist (Fonda) is sent to investigate what looks like a dinosaur tooth found after a fatal attack on a diver at Black Lake. Joining forces with a smooth game warden (Pullman) and a grouchy sheriff (Gleeson), they go in search of the 'dinosaur'.
Humour was a key dramatic strength of Jaws, from the drunken fishermen on the jetty to the verbal sparring between Hooper and Quint. With this in mind, Hollywood's latest post-modern take on the old-fashioned monster movie is not so novel - nor is it as difficult to take seriously. Lake Placid, a modest summer hit in the States (four weeks in the Top 20), is easily summarised as The Big Crocodile Movie, but a more informative shorthand might be Eating Ally McBeal, since TV script supremo David E. Kelley has taken the easy, knowing, urban wit of his hit show and transplanted it to the picturesque sticks of Maine.
The 'dinosaur', turns out to be a 30-foot crocodile that's swum all the way from Asia. This we know thanks to the expertise of eccentric mythology professor Hector Cyr (Platt), who is immediately at odds with Gleeson's hick. "How do you know?", asks the sheriff. "They conceal information like that in books," comes Cyr's barbed reply. In another priceless exchange, Cyr finds a human toe and asks, "Is this the man that was killed?" The sheriff examines it, poker-faced: "He seemed taller."
So, it's part ecologically-themed oversize-beast thriller, part culture-clash comedy. The reptile itself (combined model/CGI showmanship from Jurassic Park's Stan Winston) is magnificent - its jaw-dropping full-screen reveal, after much Jaws-like underwater point-of-view build-up, involves the consumption of a grizzly bear! But it's the easy, underplayed performances and the slick dialogue that make this more than a rural cat-and-mouse (or croc-and-cow, since a heifer gets used as bait). But it's not a spoof, and that's crucial. You can enjoy Placid as a straightforward camping-holiday nightmare, or as a sly, ironic take on the same. It works deliciously as both.
You can enjoy Placid as a straightforward camping-holiday nightmare, or as a sly, ironic take on the same. It works deliciously as both.