Sunday, February 03, 2008

LAKE PLACID 2 (Unrated)

Written by Guest Reviewer Mel Odom

Back in the 1970s, Betty White and Cloris Leachman starred in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which was at the top of the heap in sitcoms. Both women played solid comedic roles and helped shape the series by giving Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore) someone to play off in different scenes. White was a Jekyll-and-Hyde, homemaker-show hostess and Leachman was the crabby/occasionally soft-hearted landlady.

Never in any of those episodes did viewers learn that both women harbored secret alligator fetishes. It wasn’t until Lake Placid and Lake Placid 2 that we discovered this. I have to admit, watching White feed her “precious” alligators in the first movie went totally against everything I’d ever seen of her, and it made the movie even more twisted. Watching Leachman perform the same function in this made-for-SciFi TV sequel just didn’t have the same impact. I expected it, and because of that seeing Leachman onscreen was a bit disappointing.

In the original movie, Bill Pullman, Bridget Fonda, and Oliver Platt end up trapped in the area as the alligators stalk them. The CGI was well done and the acting was solid. There was a lot of comedy and off-hand remarks that make these kinds of creature horror films work – the movie just didn’t take itself too seriously. The capper, though, was when they lowered the cow into the lake to use as bait. At best, the movie was uneven, though, and had trouble finding an audience. I enjoyed it because I didn’t have any high expectations.

When I found out there was going to be a sequel, it wasn’t cause for intense celebration, but I figured it would be worth a look. Sadly, the sequel misses the boat nearly all the way around. The movie in no way feels “fresh” or different. Its more like a rendition minus a lot of the interesting and comedic parts, and definitely without the budget for special effects. But it’s twice the alligator-killing frenzy because there are four predators this time instead of two. If you saw the first movie, just remember the final scene where Betty White is feeding the young alligators and you’ll realize this film was set up then.

In addition to Leachman, the film also stars John Schneider (The Dukes of Hazzard, Smallville) as Sheriff James Riley. The rest of the principal cast is rounded out by Sarah LaFleur playing Riley’s romantic interest Emma Warner, Sam McMurray playing big-game hunter Struthers, and Chad Collins playing Riley’s son Scott. I looked at those names and couldn’t think of a single thing I’d seen them in. I knew the prospect of a break-even sequel was dimming.

The budget for the original show, probably because producer David E. Kelley (Boston Legal) wrote the original script, was just short of $30 million. The sequel’s budget was $2 million, and it shows drastically. Kelley’s lighthearted and twisted approach to the material is also MIA.

The movie quickly devolves into predictable action and special effects, really weak special effects. The cutting one-liners, almost asides to the audience, are missing. And the tension just never really exists. It’s a vapid chomp-fest from beginning to end, and just never comes close to the original. Everyone, monsters included, simply go through the paces.

Interestingly enough, the film was made-for-television but at some point had nudity shot to add into the Unrated version of the film. That accounts for about four additional minutes of naked soon-to-be ‘gator bait that harkens back to that old horror standby: get naked, have sex, and die.

There are making-of featurettes included on the disc that present some of the background of the film, but it's hard to talk about any cool CGI work when there wasn't any, or any spell-binding scenes. I felt bad for the people involved because you could tell they were earnest and had worked hard on the film.

I didn’t care for Lake Placid 2. I never once got involved with the action or the characters. The presentation is purely paint-by-numbers with few saving graces. Watching Cloris Leachman take over the Betty White role was funny, though, but I think by that point I was desperate for anything that even came close to funny. If you’ve seen the first movie, you might want to see this one, but once you’re finished I doubt you’ll ever want to see it again.