We open on serene Black Lake where a local Fish and Game officer is brutally attacked by an almost unseen whatever-the-fuck a la Jaws in front of the town sheriff Hank Keough (Brendon Gleeson, best known as Mad-Eye Moody in the Harry Potter films unless you're a fan of British cinema).
Enter paleontologist Kelly Scott (Bridget Fonda) who dislikes Maine and was probably sent because her ex-boyfriend doesn't want her around for a while. The "ex-boyfriend" thing isn't important.
Once in Maine, Kelly meets up with the sheriff and Jack Wells, another Fish and Game officer, both of whom apparently dislike New Yorkers and try to dissuade Kelly from taking part in the expedition to get rid of the lake monster. Kelly threatens to sue and gets her way because she's Bridget Fonda.
Yep... Maine law enforcement...
Once at the lake, they check in with the resident little old lady, Dolores Bickerman (Betty White in all of her longshoreman glory). She claims to have mercy-murdered her husband with a skillet. Why she isn't arrested at that point is completely beyond me.
And then we get Hector Cyr (Oliver Platt) a "rich kook mythology professor" who likes to swim with crocodiles. Because he's fuckin' crazy. And rich. And a sexist bastard. Arrives in his own helicopter. This is important. He informs us that as long as a crocodile's nostrils don't freeze, a salt-water crocodile will survive a Maine winter and I don't believe that for one damn minute. And then they get flipped into the water by something but none of them get eaten. Boo.
So, yeah, it turns out that cranky old lady has been feeding a crocodile that followed her husband home. Her husband was an idiot that got too close and then had his name changed to "Lunch". The thing, now, has graduated to whole cows. Instead of actually taking her in, like any sane police force, they placed her under house arrest. Because law enforcement in rural Maine is lax.
Beef: It's What's For Dinner.
So, anyway, Hector finds the cove where the croc lives and takes a dive when it pops up right behind him (conveniently next to his helicopter). To avoid getting eaten, he uses an inflatable raft as a diversion but the croc manages to catch hold of the whirlybird.
Realism is our friend.
And the rest of the movie is all about hunting the damn thing down with an aim to kill it. They DON'T kill it, because Bridget Fonda always wins, but that was initially the goal.
This movie got a LOT of negative reviews when it came out but frankly, I love it. It's another of those movies that has that perfect blend of horror and humor. I think that's WHY it got as many bad reviews as it did. Even Roger Ebert hated this movie. And I can kind of understand because this situation really is entirely unrealistic. A 30-foot salt water crocodile in a lake in Maine? Come on. A little old lady that has no problem feeding the thing? OK, given the amount of news stories about crazy cat-ladies, I can kinda believe it.
Seriously, though, there ARE enough scares in this to make it a great "intro to horror" without freaking people out entirely. It's still got an R-rating so Lake Placid did take its horror seriously and the movie is worth it just to watch Betty White call Keough "Officer Fuck-meat". The dysfunction among the group of hunters is fun to watch, too. Personally, I view this movie as a parody of movies like Jaws or Grizzly and that's what makes it enjoyable to me.
Give it another go, I say.