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Why David E. Kelley's script for ''Lake Placid'' almost got sunk

Bill Pullman, Oliver Platt, and Bridget Fonda defend their hard-to-define crocodile movie

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Bill Pullman, Bridget Fonda
Bob Akester

On the surface, the appeal of starring in ”Lake Placid” seems like a no-brainer. What actor wouldn’t jump at the chance to tackle a role written by ”Ally McBeal” and ”The Practice” mastermind David E. Kelley? ”Thanks to his writing, you have these phenomenal characters and this wild kind of humor that’s very hard to describe,” says star Bridget Fonda, who plays a neurotic paleontologist in the crocodile-run-amok thriller. ”That strange mix is my favorite kind of movie to be in.”

But not all of Hollywood was so open to a script written by a TV writer, even one as successful as Kelley. Despite his small-screen success, the scribe’s two previous features — the Judd Nelson bomb ”From the Hip” and the box office disappointment ”To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday” — didn’t make much of a splash in Hollywood. ”The people who were reading stuff for me said, ‘Let’s pass, it’s a David Kelley thing, and, well, he’s TV,”’ says Bill Pullman. ”It just wasn’t anything that anyone was interested in. But I read it and thought it was great.” Costar Oliver Platt also resisted Tinseltown’s anti-television prejudice to play an eccentric mythology professor. ”Good writing’s good writing,” says Platt, who admits to watching ”almost no television” at home. ”If you want to get into a theoretical argument about the merits of television versus feature films, I can tell you good television is a lot better than 87.5 percent of the scripts I read.”

Still, the quirky tale, which adds a Pullman-Fonda romance and comic relief (in the form of an obscenity-spewing Betty White) to the usual horror-movie gore, had studio execs scratching their heads. ”They hate the idea that it’s a hyphenate,” says Pullman of the horror/love story/comedy. ”Even now I don’t know how clearly they’re confident about the movie. There’s been a little bit of, ‘Well, you know, WE like the movie,’ which is always the kiss of death.” As the scaly, 30-foot star of ”Placid” might say, that bites.