Lake Placid / TK
Hangover Theater | May 22, 2008 | Comments ()
At this point, it feels like Hangover Theater has hit its stride — as if we’ve established the parameters sufficiently and clearly. The rules for dealing with these brutal mornings/afternoons are by no means set in stone, but it seems like we can come together and agree on a few fundamentals. You will need liquids, preferably heavily sugared and in large quantities. You will need food, preferably heavy, cholesterol-laden and salted within an inch of its life. You need comfortable clothes. If you’re a true
glutton for punishment champion, you can mix it up by throwing down more booze, in the sometimes misguided belief in the hair of the dog that bit you. Personally, I’ve never liked that dog, or his mangy hair, unless it’s a conscious, planned effort to partake in a bender of epic proportions. The Sunday after a simple night out with friends? No. Waking up at 3:00 in the afternoon after an all-night sweaty, howling drunkfrest with six drunken baboons at the MGM Grand? Absolutely. For me, the circumstances for hair of the dog are specific and proscribed. Others (cough)boynton(cough) have far stronger constitutions than I and can do this routinely. By “stronger constitution,” I of course mean “a liver of iron and a love of suffering.”
But we seem to generally agree on the basics. You’ll need various iterations of the sustenances listed above, and you’ll need your television. What you watch is, of course, the main point of this series. We’ve discussed comedies, we’ve discussed action movies, and we’ve discussed the hilariously terrible movies. There’s another category that we’ve neglected - namely, giant monster movies. Yes, I know, we dealt with Deep Blue Sea; however, that’s such a spectacularly hysterical failure that it barely even counts. You don’t watch it because it’s a monster movie — you watch it for the same reason you watch old Ed Wood films — because it’s magnificent in its badness. However, there are legitimately good, fun, uncomplicated giant monster movies out there. For a weekend when you can barely figure out how to get the string-ties on your pajama pants working properly, sometimes you need something that’ll make you laugh, isn’t legitimately scary, that doesn’t involve a lot of thinking, but afterwards you don’t feel ashamed of it (chances are, you’ve got enough to be ashamed of from the night before). Lake Placid is such a feature — it’s light, breezy, blood-and-severed limb fun — not a guilty pleasure, but simply a pleasure.
When Lake Placid came out in 1999, most people thought it was either a summer throwaway or shameless ripoff of the classic John Sayles-scripted Alligator (a surprising bit of genius itself — if you haven’t seen it, please do before I get upset). Roger Ebert even called it “a failed Anaconda,” which makes me loathe that pretentious vat of goo even more than I did before. People didn’t like it because it was too goofy to be a horror movie and too gory to be a comedy. Apparently, the term “horror-comedy” wasn’t around in 1999, you no-taste, unappreciative killjoys. The fact is, Lake Placid is gory and funny and easy to enjoy, if you just let it do what it’s trying to do - amuse you. Directed by Steve Miner (Warlock, House - clearly a man with a soft spot for schlocky horror-comedy), it’s about a quiet, bucolic little Maine town… with a serious crocodile problem. I figured I’d get that out of the way before going into the details, because if you’re the type of person who can’t suspend their disbelief, I’d like to nail that bit down so that you can stop reading now and go have a sandwich or something. Lake Placid is going to require tossing some critical thinking out the window. The film makes an admirable attempt to explain it - something about migrating across the oceans from Asia - but really, who cares? Crocodiles in Maine — you’re either on board or you’re not. But then again, given the mental state you’re most likely in when you’re watching this — drymouthed, splitting headache, lacking any capacity for rational thought — that probably won’t matter. Anyway, one day a mauled body turns up, with a big-ass tooth in it. The tooth is sent to a museum in New York, where paleontologist Kelly Scott (Bridget Fonda — Single White Female, Drop Dead Fred) recognizes its potential source and is reluctantly sent up to Black Lake to investigate. There, she teams up with the gruff local Sheriff Hank Keough (Brendan Gleeson - Troy, The Village) and Jack Wells, the cranky, smarter-than-you-think game warden (Bill Pullman - Zero Effect, The Last Seduction) to try to track the giant crocodile down. After a couple of near misses, they’re eventually (and unwillingly) joined by an eccentric, somewhat-deranged adventurer/crocodile expert named Hector Cyr (Oliver Platt - Diggstown, Flatliners) with his own agenda — to capture and study (and perhaps worship? like I said — eccentric) the beastie. This of course puts him at odds with Wells and Keough, who are more than happy to simply blow it into oblivion before it devours more of the local populace.
I know, I know - it sounds like nothing more than a Sci-Fi Channel movie with a better cast. But Lake Placid is sneaky, you see. Beneath that derivative-sounding synopsis is clever writing, snappy dialogue, and a buoyant, easygoing tone that offsets the loud, occasionally bloody action pieces. The main source of that sneakiness is one David E. Kelley, writer of Mystery, Alaska and television staples such as “Ally McBeal”, “L.A. Law” and “The Practice.” Kelley infuses the characters with the kind of sharp wit that makes his TV shows so popular — say what you will about his shows, the man knows how to write some clever dialogue. By being creative with the obvious stereotypes — the snooty city-slicker, the hick sheriff, the wealthy, idiosyncratic crackpot — Kelley’s dialogue creates a strange little world where, in the distant woods of Maine, amidst the blood and death of a giant crocodile hunt, the repartee is so acerbic and sarcastic, that you can see why people had difficulty pigeonholing the movie. However, that is exactly why it’s worth a look - any time a movie can break free of the contrivances of its genre, regardless of how basic the plot is, I consider it at least a minor success. Kelley and Miner aren’t going to win any awards for the plot of Lake Placid — part of the reason it works for Hangover Theater is how simplistic it is — but the writing and direction set it apart and prevent it from dropping into the pit of mediocrity with the Anacondas and Primevals of the world.
Of course, all the witty banter in the world ain’t worth a pile of guano if you don’t have decent actors to carry the movie along. Sure, the cast list reads like a catalog of perennial “That Guys,” but they work well together and their performances match the tone of the dialogue. Fonda, who I’ve never particularly cared for, plays the sarcastic city girl with a surprising amount of grace, never getting too annoying. Pullman has always been a quiet favorite of mine, and his dry, glib humor is perfect — it’s this that allows him to play around with the local yokel stereotype so successfully. Similarly, Gleeson’s Sheriff Keough could easily have been played as a doofus, but instead is sharp enough to butt heads with the manic Platt’s Hector. Platt always plays his roles with a presence that fills up the screen, and Hector Cyr is no different. Again, however, Kelley’s nimble script allows Hector to be more than just another crazy eccentric. Instead, Platt plays him with relative calm, despite the nutty ideas that put him at odds with Keough. Finally, the other notable performance is none other than Ms. Betty White, who gives a splendid and hysterical performance as a cranky old lady who thinks the crocodile is her pet — I’m loathe to give you more than that.
Of course, action-wise the star of the show is the crocodile itself, even if the poor guy feels somewhat neglected. Like most good monster movies, the filmmakers let the tension build for a bit before actually revealing the creature. Created pretty much exclusively out of computer generated imagery, it’s one of the better CGI creations you’re likely to see, especially given that it’s now almost 10 years old. The croc gets to wreak havoc on all creatures great and small — humans, cows, the works. The buildup before the scenes of crocodilian carnage is surprisingly effective, and there are moments of honest-to-goodness tension — leading up to attacks so sudden and violent that it’s almost jarring. It’s these moments that probably turned off some early critics — I suppose if you were expecting a lighthearted creature feature/comedy, and you see someone get their head bitten off and the resultant geyser of blood, it might be a bit… unsettling. Not me, of course. I eat that shit up. I say the movie isn’t gory enough. Sure, there’s a great head-biting scene, and some severed limbs are found here and there, but dammit, it’s an R-rated horror movie. Gimme the horror business. I appreciate the snarkiness and all, but the movie’s only 82 minutes long — a couple more scenes of tooth-and-claw mayhem would have been welcome. Really, is that so much to ask?
I like it when life surprises you. There’s nothing better than to wake up after a night spent beating your liver into submission, head pounding, so dehydrated you can hear yourself blinking, only to realize that at some point you bought Gatorades… and remembered to put them in the refrigerator! And there’s leftover pizza! Movies like this are like that for me — I lay around hoping to die, cursing my weak, age-addled liver, aimlessly flipping channels only to stumble upon it. My creaking heart skips a beat, and I find myself rearranging my plans for the day. Much like that leftover pizza, it’s not exactly good for you, but it certainly fulfills a need. Truth be told, if you don’t like giant monsters, excessive sarcasm, screaming, and rivers of blood, then I don’t really know how to help you. That’s your problem, not mine. You’ll have to simply suffer without the pleasant carnage of Lake Placid.
TK can be found wandering aimlessly through suburban Massachusetts, wondering how the hell he got there while yelling at the kids on his lawn. You can find him wasting his time while cursing the Gods for the existence of Lake Placid 2 at Uncooked Meat.