Specialising in sarky wisecracks as much as ""It's behind you!"" jumpy shocks, Lake Placid takes your basic Jaws formula, hands it over to Ally McBeal's scriptwriter for a gag infusion and then lets an A-list collection of largely forgotten character actors loose on it. The result? A monster movie that has a brain to go with all those teeth.
Halloween: H20 director Steve Miner presses all the right buttons to create hands-over-the-eyes tension: long lingering images of the huge, dark lake with just one little boat bobbing up and down; shots over characters' shoulders of the vast empty, menacing spaces behind them; cameras dropping to water level as they creep in on seemingly oblivious bit part players... You know the kind of thing.
But while he's got all the tricks, and an impressively CG'd croc, Miner never loses sight of one thing: this is a horror comedy and not an out-and-out scarefest. Terror takes a back seat as David E Kelly's script develops sharp, well-observed characters rather than simple-minded croc-fodder. Heck, if you had fellas with a line of banter as good as Gleeson's Sheriff Keough and Platt's Hector Cyr (Gleeson to Platt, as Platt's about to dive into the lake: ""I've brought a pork chop with me, maybe you could wear it for luck""/Platt to Gleeson: ""Sheriff, the sooner we catch this thing, the sooner you can get back to sleeping with your sister...""), you'd wait a while before feeding them to the big swimming handbag too.
Throw in Fonda's McBeal-clone paleontologist (""Why do people keep throwing heads at me?"") and a guest appearance by former Golden Girl Betty White as a foul-mouthed granny (""If I had a dick, this is where I'd tell you to suck it"") and you've got that rarity: a monster movie that has you laughing with it, rather than at it.
Fantastic stuff. Tense and silly and very, very funny, this is easily the best horror comedy for years. A Saturday night movie for anyone who thought that Scream and its sequel took themselves way too seriously.