David E. Kelley is a man who seems to have it all. Married to Michelle Pfeiffer, he’s also the creator/writer/producer of the television shows “Ally McBeal”, “The Practice”, “Picket Fences”, and “Chicago Hope”. His home studio, 20th Century Fox, even built him his own production facilities in Orange County. Now with all the ratings, money, and Emmies he’s pulling in, you got to believe he has some power to do whatever he wants. What does he do with it? He gets to create his own Roger Corman film, apparently. God bless him. Sheriff Hank Keough (Brendan Gleeson) takes a Fish and Game officer to set underwater traps in the Black Lake of Maine (no, it’s not actually Lake Placid) when something instead catches him. Keough is not quite able to pull the entire officer back out of the water.
Sent to investigate are Fish and Game Warden, Jack Wells (Bill Pullman), and Manhattan paleontologist, Kelly Scott (Bridget Fonda). As Scott is here only to escape a failed office romance, sparks SURPRISINGLY fly between the two polar opposites. Add eccentric, wealthy professor Hector Cyr (Oliver Platt) to the mix, and our merry band of misfits is complete. The mighty hunters run into the lone, lakeside resident, Mrs. Bickerman (Betty White, with a mouth like the uncut Eric Cartman), and that’s when their troubles REALLY begin. First, let me spell out something that may not be clear from all the trailers. This is a COMEDY. This film is about a giant “something” in the way that “Ally McBeal” is about lawyers (come to think of it, Bridget Fonda was Kelley’s first choice to play Ally McBeal). While we do get a bit of gore, the movie is really about this wacky bunch of people jumping on each other’s nerves, kind of a zany hero’s journey.
I didn’t know anything about this film beforehand, so I hadn’t expected a smart update of the kind of low-budget horror films that Corman produced in the 1970s that helped launch the careers of filmmakers like Joe Dante, Jim Cameron, and John Sayles. This is what we should expect from a summer flick: something inoffensive but funny that goes down easy and keeps you from looking at your watch for an hour and a half. This is what we used to get before all the studio production chiefs lost their minds. The only other filmmaker attempting anything like this is Stephen Sommers (“Deep Rising”, “The Mummy”). Sommers does tend to fall into the trap of substituting CGI for fully three-dimensional characters, but at least he also keeps the picture moving. SO, let’s mull this over. You and your date have had dinner and a couple of beers. Now you’re standing in front of the local Googleplex. Given the choice, should you buy tickets for:
1) A film full of out-of-control method actors and gratuitous, tasteless rape scenes (“The General’s Daughter”)? ^ 2) A pseudo-western that looks like a bad episode of “Star Trek: Next Generation” full of racist jokes and cripple jokes (“The Wild, Wild, Mess”)? ^ 3) A monster movie with some believable romance where characters are bitten in half on-screen? What would you choose?