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Weekly Alibi Lake Placid

Later, Alligator!

By Devin D. O'Leary

JULY 19, 1999:  Ever see that "X-Files" episode where Mulder and Scully go to the upper Northeast to investigate a mysterious lake monster and it turns out to be a giant alligator? Well, here's the movie version.

If you haven't seen that particular episode of "X-Files," then I can name about half a dozen other movies and TV shows which Lake Placid seems to have consumed whole and expelled only half-digested. It's not hard to believe that director Steve Miner (best known for such horror non-classics as Friday the 13th Part II and III, House and Halloween: H2O) helmed this soon-to-be-forgotten summer horror entry. What's baffling, though, is that it was actually penned by Emmy Award-winning writer/producer David E. Kelley (king of the TV dramady, thanks to "Picket Fences," "Chicago Hope" and "Ally McBeal").

Is it actually possible that someone over the age of 16 wrote this thing? What other excuse could there be for the hoary, cliché-riddled plot and inhuman dialogue? Let's run this down: A mysterious reptilian monster is eating up the residents of Black Lake, Maine. An emotionally fragile, nature-phobic paleontologist (Bridget Fonda) is called in to investigate (don't ask). She hooks up with a handsome, earnest Fish and Game warden (handsome, earnest Bill Pullman) and a gruff, disbelieving sheriff (Irish actor Brendan Gleeson, slumming shamelessly). Turns out there's a 30-foot crocodile in the lake, and anyone fool enough to go skinny-dipping is lunchmeat. Of course, nobody believes it, and we're treated to plenty of floating corpses before the requisite "heroes in peril" climax and the thoroughly predictable "you should still be scared -- we've got plans for a sequel" pre-credit stinger.

Lake Placid will come as a breath of fresh air to anyone who has never been privileged to catch an obscure 1975 film by the name of Jaws. The story of Lake Placid follows Steven Spielberg's horror hallmark nearly beat for beat, character for character. One can only hope that Kelley was trying for some kind of parody, but it's extremely hard to judge from this film's lame attempts at humor. The dialogue is atrocious. Every single character speaks exactly the same, with a barrage of high school-style cut-downs and curse words. At the film's absolute bottom-dwelling low point, seventysomething former-"Golden Girl" Betty White is forced to utter the immortal line, "If I had a dick, this is where I'd tell you to suck it!" It could be the lowest movie moment of the year -- and, no, I'm not forgetting Mike Myers' poo-swilling scene in Austin Powers.

The normally reliable cast just doesn't belong here in C-grade horror land. For most of the movie, they're called upon to squabble and generally act as annoying as possible. Oliver Platt (who last embarrassed himself in Doctor Dolittle) shows up as a wacky, crocodile-hunting, millionaire mythology professor (don't ask). Brendan Gleeson looks like he's sorry he even got off the plane from Dublin. Audiences are presumably expected to find the blooming romance between Fonda and Pullman "cute." She's the cell phone and French manicure type (just like all the real-life paleontologists I know). He's the outdoorsy-type who finds her to be a "cityfied" pain in the butt. They kiss in the end anyway. Ain't that cute? The only character in the whole film who saves himself serious career embarrassment is the killer croc. Brought to life by creature king Stan Winston (Aliens, Jurassic Park), this monstrous reptile is realistic enough to give Aussie Steve Irwin a scare or two.

Who knows, maybe Kelley actually thought that he was making a clever parody of nature-gone-mad films. Michelle Pfieffer's own personal TV mogul would do well to rent writer-turned-director John Sayles' campy 1980 horror spoof, Alligator. Want to make a clever parody of nature-gone-mad films by rewriting Jaws and substituting a giant lizard for the giant shark? Alligator did it up right. Sayles' tongue-in-cheek effort is 10 times more entertaining and 100 times funnier than all of Lake Placid's "suck my dick" jokes put together.

Until David Kelley comes out and admits that he wrote this thing when he was 16, I'm boycotting "Ally McBeal." ... Ah, it's in reruns anyway. What a croc!

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