1999's Lake Placid does have its fans, and I'm certainly not going to try to take it away from them. Lord knows I don't want it. That film was directed by slasher expert Steve Miner, but much more importantly, it was written by television auteur David E. Kelley, then at the absolute height of his influence thanks to The Practice and Ally McBeal. As a direct result, it is a burning swamp of over-articulated quipping peppered with tedious swearing. Every now and then, for a few seconds at a time, a 30-foot saltwater crocodile growls at the protagonists without really trying to eat them. It is exemplary of American horror movies' turn towards flippant irony in the late 1990s - a terrible thing to exemplify.

There's not any real reason for it to have received a sequel - it wasn't a hit by any stretch of the imagination - but I guess I can imagine where the killer animal movie faithful would respond to the brand name enough to make a sequel a reasonable gamble as long as the price could be kept way down. And when Lake Placid 2 eventually found its way into the world, in April 2007, the price had been kept way down: all the way down to a shot-in-Bulgaria, made-for-Sci Fi level, in fact. Between that and the eight-year gap, it would be easy to expect the absolute worst  of the movie, and not being a complete buffoon,  that's exactly what I did expect. Which makes it all the more surprising that, for my tastes at least, Lake Placid 2 considerably improves upon the first Lake Placid, in a lot of the ways one would hope for a killer animal way to function. This isn't true without exception, and one of those exceptions is a huge one: this film completely does away with any practical creature effects at all, replacing the delightful animatronic made by the Stan Winston Studio for the first film with a CGI effect that is exactly at the level you'd expect from a movie for which I have already read the phrases "shot in Bugaria" and "made for Sci Fi" into the record. This is particularly noticeable in any shot where a croc rises up through the waters, smoothly emerging with nary a ripple to mark its mass. Though in truth, it's only barely worse than the CGI in the first movie, suffering mostly from uneven lighting that never matches the environments where the beastsfind themselves. In at least one respects, the effects here are even an improvement: when the crocodiles move across land, they actually feel like they have any mass, something the 1999 film had a problem with.

The action picks up, presumably, eight years after last time that two mature salties were found in Black Lake, Maine, and the memories of that period remain fresh. So when researcher Tillman (Michael McCoy) is silently pulled from the boat that he and Frank (Robert Blush) have been using to collect specimens, and shortly returns in the form of handful of severed body parts, Frank goes directly to Sheriff James Riley (John Schneider), who heads back out with Frank and wildlife officer Emily Warner (Sarah Lafleur) to investigate, and they all immediately leap to the crocodile conclusion. And having done this, their very first stop is the old Bickerman place, whose former inhabitant is now dead, but who has been replaced by her sister-in-law Sadie Bickerman (Cloris Leachman), rumored to have kept up the family business in feeding enormous predators. It says more about the quality of the killer animal genre in general than Lake Placid in particular that I am so unreasonably impressed by a film in which the characters, with ample reason to suspect giant crocodiles are afoot, waste no time whatsoever in acting on that assumption. Compare this to e.g. Jaws 2, where much precious running time is spent on exactly replicating the "it was a shark!" / "haha, you crazy person, no it isn't" plot from Jaws. Lake Placid 2 has gotten its Official Authorities into croc-hunting mode with unusual speed and directness for the genre.

This is part of its overall approach, and one of the two things I like abut it best, compared to the first Lake Placid: it wants to give us a great many more croc attacks than that movie, and the sooner the characters know what's going on, the sooner the filmmakers themselves can stop pussyfooting about (the other thing I like best is that Lake Placid 2 more or less entirely does away with allegedly comic banter, outsider of the baseline for the genre). It's a surprisingly violent film, considering its television origins, and very brazen about introducing characters just so it can boost its body count later on. This gets particularly brazen in the unrated DVD cut released in 2008, when the new footage consists in its entirety of three characters who appear in no other scenes (all of them speaking in thick Bulgarian accents), two of whom are topless women, all of whom just splash into the film, get chomped, and splash back out.

In either cut, the action largely operates on three levels. First, Riley, Emily, and Frank hunt the croc they know is there. Second, Frank's irritable son Scott (Chad Michael Collins), who is quite angry that he has to spend the summer with his dad, rather than at home in New York, gets involved with some local kids his age - Kerri (Alicia Ziegler), the love interest; Thad (Ian Reed Kesler), the asshole boyfriend; Larry (Justin Ulrich) and Rachel (V.J. Benson), the live bait - and they all end up inadvertently getting lost in the woods right by the crocodile nest. Third, hunters, or mercenaries, or I don't know quite what, Struthers (Sam McMurray) and Ahmad (Joe Holt) show up either help the first group or get in its way, depending on the needs of the particular scene. So really more like two levels. This is, at any rate, the point where I reflect on the fact that this whole review up to this point has had a generally positive tone, and admit that, okay, it's not really good. It is in fact pretty blandly crummy, in the fashion of most killer animal films since the genre coalesced in the late '70s. There's not a single memorable character in the bunch, not even Leachman's, who is given far less to do than Betty White last time; even the reveal that Sadie Bickerman is deliberately feeding live humans to the crocodiles feels less like a chance to let the grand dame go nuts with a proper psychopathic role, and more like the extremely obvious way to "plus" this film from last time (it doesn't help that Leachman's overall screentime just screams "we could afford her for exactly one day").

Still, as formulaic killer animal films go, any halfway-serious fan of the genre has seen worse. And by the standards of 2000s made-for-cable incarnations of the genre, Lake Placid 2 is damn near a great movie: the CGI is merely sub-par rather than extremely bad, and the acting is perfectly adequate, rather than hilariously amateur. Given the specific niche it wants to fill - killing two hours on a Saturday afternoon - it fills it perfectly well.

I will concede that it is a great deal more anonymous than the first Lake Placid. The lack of godawful Kelley humor is a place where anonymity is to its benefit, but it is the only one. The film is well-lit and visually flat, where the original at least had some interesting shots of afternoon light on the lake; literally every single character ends up at the place you expect them to (emotionally, or in a crocodile's gut) by the end of their first scene. It is very much going through the motions without much energy or spark. And if you like the motions, that's cool and all, but it's undeniably a film to be put on in the background as you're doing something else. Still, a perfectly perfunctory killer croc movie is so much higher than my expectations when I started the film that I find myself staring down the idea of an entire series with of Lake Placid sequels much less inherently repulsive than I did not that long ago.

Reviews in this series
Lake Placid (Miner, 1999)
Lake Placid 2 (Flores, 2007)
Lake Placid 3 (Furst, 2010)
Lake Placid: The Final Chapter (Paul, 2012)
Lake Placid vs. Anaconda (Stone, 2015)
Lake Placid: Legacy (Roodt, 2018)