Susan Granger’s review of “LAKE PLACID” (20th Century-Fox)

Every summer needs its monster movie – think “Jaws” – and this one has the added comedic touch of David E. Kelley, creator of TV’s “Ally McBeal,” “Chicago Hope,” “L.A. Law,” and “The Practice.” Bridget Fonda stars as a paleontologist who is sent from museum in New York City to a tranquil lake in Maine to verify a shard, a supposed fossil, which turns out to be a tooth from a primitive, mysterious predator who has killed a member of the Fish & Game department. That’s where Bill Pullman comes in. He’s the perennially cool Fish & Game Warden. Right away, there’s friction because she’s not only annoyingly phobic about the wilderness but she’s also arrogantly embittered about men and love. Then there’s Oliver Platt, a rich, wacky, world-renown mythology professor, and Brendan Gleeson, the irascible sheriff. These neurotic, off-beat, disparate characters band together to discover what’s devouring not only the wildlife but people – on land and in Black Lake. It turns out to be a 30-foot crocodile that has migrated to New England and been adopted as “a pet who lives in the wild” by a local eccentric, played by Betty White. The elusive reptile is terrifyingly realistic – thanks to the special effects creativity of Stan Winston (“Aliens,” “Jurassic Park”). Producer/writer David E. Kelley and director Steve Miner (sequels 2 & 3 of “Friday the 13th,” “Halloween: H20″) supply enough absurdly inventive satire, derived from the eclectic characters, to keep what could have been a prosaic horror/thriller afloat. But the title is a bit misleading – this has absolutely nothing to do with the summer tourist haven of Lake Placid, New York. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Lake Placid” is a gruesome but surprising 6. It’s a hip, caustic creature-feature with an unexpectedly snappy, comedic bite.