A more modest film than Lake Placid is hard to imagine; it runs a breezy 90 minutes, has a fairly derivative plot, and the body count is shockingly low (two bit players, a bear, and a cow) for a horror film. Compared to the usual run of overbearing summer blockbusters like The Wild Wild West and The Phantom Menace, such lack of ambition is rather refreshing. Placid isn't interested in much more than providing a few chuckles and perhaps a few scares, and it succeeds admirably on that score. I'm a big fan of Tremors, my ideal of a popcorn movie, and Lake Placid has the same low-key charm.
I think Ally McBeal is the most putridly overrated show currently on the air, so I'm no David E. Kelley fan. But I enjoyed his writing on Lake Placid; his sense of quirk is well suited to a tongue-in-cheek monster movie, and he (for the most part) avoids his major problem as a writer -- that he can't write drama worth a damn. He sends a cast of eccentrics out into the Maine woods to snipe at and insult each other, and perhaps catch a 30-foot crocodile. Brendan Gleeson and Oliver Platt are particularly amusing as the town sheriff and an oddball croc worshipper; their fighting and bantering steal the film. The two nominal headliners fare less well, with Bill Pullman being even more bland than usual and Bridget Fonda's neurotic urbanite fading into the background as the film progresses, though she gets my favorite moment in the film when she attempts to demosquito the Great North Woods with a single can of Raid, a gesture as hopelessly futile as trying to bail out the Titanic with a teaspoon.