Cliches drag `Lake Placid' down

July 16, 1999|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

A 30-foot crocodile?

A flying cow?

A Golden Girl who curses like a "South Park" kid on crack?

Who writes stuff like this, anyway? David E. Kelley, of course.

No longer content to write some of the quirkiest material on television, Kelley has loosed his fateful pen on the screenplay of "Lake Placid," a thriller that is not quite as thrilling as it could be or as clever as it thinks it is.

Don't misunderstand. "Lake Placid" has its share of terrifying moments. And Kelley is too accomplished a writer not to produce snappy dialogue from time to time. It's just that director Steve Miner fails to make the audience shudder in horror of what the killer croc will do next. It's impossible to believe that anyone of consequence in the film is going to bite it, as it were.

That's not entirely Miner's fault. Kelley's screenplay is more an amalgam of cliches and funny lines than a real piece of terror. And the characters seem more lifted out of the scripts of Kelley's shows than a part of the film.

Take Bridget Fonda, for instance. Her New York-based paleontologist is little more than Ally McBeal with a Ph.D. Even Adam Arkin, in a cameo as her boyfriend, is an emotionless prig, the same turn he takes on "Chicago Hope."

Then there's Bill Pullman, the noble fish and game warden. Give him a law degree, and he could trade places with Bobby Donnell from "The Practice."

Kelley's late, lamented "Picket Fences" is evoked by a couple of kooky types. As an eccentric mythology professor, Oliver Platt literally drops in to assist the team, though it's never really explained what a mythology professor can add to a crocodile hunt.

More troubling is the presence of former "Golden Girl" Betty White, in the nutty senior citizen role Ray Walston used to fill on "Fences." She's stunningly vulgar for no apparent reason, other than shock value.

Only Irish actor Brendan Gleeson, the town sheriff, isn't lifted out of Kelley's TV show realm, but his disgust with outsiders is yet another movie cliche.

It's all a bloody mess, but the crocodile has nothing to do with it.

`Lake Placid'

Starring Bill Pullman, Bridget Fonda, Brendan Gleeson, Oliver Platt, Betty White

Directed by Steve Miner

Released by Fox 2000 Pictures

Rated R (violence, gore, language)

Running time: 83 minutes

Sun score: **

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