"LAKE PLACID" is "Jaws" lite. It's "Anaconda" set in the bucolic splendor of the Maine woods, with a 30-foot crocodile terrorizing the populace instead of a giant tropical snake.
It's laughably stupid, only fitfully scary and relatively harmless summer fun -- if you're 12 years old, in which case you probably aren't supposed to be going to movies like this anyway.
I'm not exactly sure who "Lake Placid's" target audience is. In the first five minutes, a diver investigating beaver dams in Black Lake, Maine (no, not New York state, despite the movie's title), gets vividly chomped in half, closely followed by a shot of his legless and lifeless upper body stump lying in the morgue. Mind you, I'm not complaining. As director Steve Miner ("Halloween: H20") knows only too well, that's exactly the kind of cool visual one expects -- nay, demands -- from movies of this ilk, and it comes along not a moment too soon.
But, at 83 minutes, this short-attention-span cinema seems more geared to the braces and training bra set than to those who actually pay for tickets with their own money and have driver's licenses. For crying out loud, "Paulie," "Madeleine" and "Air Bud: Golden Receiver" ran longer than this!
In all likelihood, though, it's probably not the violence that earned "Lake Placid" its R rating. Sure, in addition to the aforementioned attack, some guy's head does get bitten off by the hungry reptile, and a cow also gets swallowed whole, but that's nothing you can't see on Fox or the Discovery Channel. There's no sex or nudity to speak of, as croc-hunting game warden Jack Wells (Bill Pullman) and fish-out-of-water city slicker Kelly Scott (Bridget Fonda) barely even swap spit.
The real reason for "Lake Placid's" R rating has got to be Betty White, who plays backwoods farmer's wife Delores Bickerman and swears like a longshoreman, no, make that Eric Cartman. She has a filthier mouth than the rotund antihero of the new "South Park" film, and her sweetly dithery character's obscenity-spewing mouth is the best and funniest thing about the film.
Let's see: What are some of the worst things about this movie? Um, the plot, for one.
What's a crocodile doing in Maine? "The big ones have been migrating north, and this lake does connect to the ocean," blithely explains billionaire mythology professor Hector Cyr (Oliver Platt), who travels the globe in his private helicopter for the primal thrill of swimming with man eaters.
So just how does it survive the icy Maine winters? "As long as its nostrils don't freeze . ." offers the helpful Cyr.
Which brings me to the dialogue, lamely written by the overrated David E. Kelley of "Ally McBeal" and "The Practice" fame. Exactly what is dinosaur-bone expert Fonda doing in the field researching a living, breathing creature in the first place? "You're a paleontologist," says her boss (Adam Arkin). "That's what we do."
I was never quite sure what she is so afraid of either. What would a crocodile want with her bony behind anyway, when he's got the pudgy Platt and Brendan Gleeson (playing sheriff Hank Keough) to chew on? Early on, Cyr pokes fun at Keough's weight, which, if you don't mind my saying so, is a bit like the pot calling the kettle, er, fat. But why the wee beastie is still hungry is beyond me, after downing one bear, one cow, one moose and half a man in the space of about two days.
But never mind. If "Lake Placid" were worth its salt, I wouldn't have had time to even think about all this nonsense. At least I know now to cross Maine off my list of potential vacation spots.
LAKE PLACID (R, 83 minutes) -- Contains obscenity and a party platter of game wardens, sheriff's deputies and wildlife turned into chum. Area theaters.
CAPTION: Brendan Gleeson misses his mark. The same can be said of the entire "Lake Placid" movie.