Bargain-basement in scale, effects and acting efforts, "Lake Placid" at least has a million dollars' worth of attitude. It's like a summer stock "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," with the proviso that occasionally a giant snaggle-tooth monster slobbers onstage and eats George or Martha.
That's because the TV impresario David E. Kelley, who wrote it while slumming from his more profitable boob tube ventures, had fun infusing all the relationships with comic hostility. Everybody snaps at everybody else, the one exception being ostensible hero Bill Pullman, who cannot be roused from drowsiness long enough to snap at anyone. In fact, the movie is far more enchanting as a comedy of bad manners than what it really is, yet another in The Monster That Ate My Summer Vacation genre.
Dinosaur fans will be disappointed to discover that this monster is no fugitive from the Mesozoic era, no triceratops or T. Rex, but just a big ol' crocodile, the likes of which you could buy in Florida 25 years ago to flush down your toilet so it could eat sewer workers. Except this one got really big on the sewer worker diet: 30 feet long and fast as a small truck. This scaly hunger artist clambers ashore to eat bears and other large mammals when he isn't lunching on the local constabulary. What's it doing in Maine? Well, what's it doing anywhere?
In typical B-movie fashion, a team of falling or never-risen actors is put together to deal with him, that is when his dietary habits become injurious to the local population, though one woman says, "Frankly, I'm rooting for the croc." Who does she think she is, Sue Ann Nivens? Oh, wait, it is Sue Ann Nivens, or rather Betty White.
The crack team of croc-busters is led by the uninspiring and uninspired Pullman, whose battle cry seems to be "Wake me when it's over." Other key players are Oliver Platt in a horizontally amplified imitation of Jeff Goldblum's irritating but charming scientist in "Jurassic Park"; the fine Irish actor Brendan Gleeson, who squanders his talents as the baffled local sheriff, butt of all local-yokel jokes; and Bridget Fonda, whose mood suggests that she's still upset that it was her aunt who got to marry the darned billionaire, and she's stuck with a part in a stupid gator movie.
Steve Miner, who ran the "Friday the 13th" bunch through its paces a few times, directs, and the effects--a computer-morphed croc chief among them--are nicely done if somewhat limited in scale. I mean, the croc doesn't attack New York, it attacks a cow! You can tell it's a modern monster movie, not an old-fashioned one, because they actually use the word "ecology" without laughing.
Lake Placid (83 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for violence and gore.
CAPTION: Shouldn't they be watching their toes? Bridget Fonda and Oliver Platt look for a lake monster.