Review: ‘Loch Ness’

Ted Danson goes beastie-hunting in "Loch Ness," an old-fashioned family pic with feel-good to spare. OK playing by Danson, an excellent perf by Joely Richardson and a bighearted score by Trevor Jones elevate a basically modest picture into medium-size family fare that could generate some B.O. wash if carefully marketed along those lines.

Ted Danson goes beastie-hunting in “Loch Ness,” an old-fashioned family pic with feel-good to spare. OK playing by Danson, an excellent perf by Joely Richardson and a bighearted score by Trevor Jones elevate a basically modest picture into medium-size family fare that could generate some B.O. wash if carefully marketed along those lines.

Young kiddies will love it if they can be persuaded to go, and parents will gradually warm to the pic’s unpretentious charm. Where the movie is likely to miss out is in the vast middle ground: Techno-freaks expecting some kind of aquatic “Jurassic Park” will find their fast-forward finger twitching after the first few reels.

Danson plays once-renowned L.A. zoologist Jonathan Dempsey, whose career is one step away from imploding after a series of failed hunts for legendary animals. (“Your pursuit of the yeti was seminal,” notes a colleague.) His boss (Harris Yulin) makes him an offer he can’t refuse: Disprove once and for all that the Loch Ness Monster exists. Unwillingly, Dempsey hightails it to the Highlands, where his predecessor, Abernathy, was recently killed photographing something in the water, and the townspeople don’t seem to have changed since Ealing days.

Finding a room in a small hotel run by feisty single mom Laura MacFeteridge (Richardson), Dempsey sets out scanning the giant loch with local assistant Adrian (James Frain) and a boatload of sonic equipment. The Highlanders run the gamut from mystical (Ian Holm’s wizened Water Bailiff) to plain hostile (Nick Brimble’s Andy, who sees Dempsey as a rival for Laura’s affections). The only one to give him time is Laura’s young daughter, Isabel (Kirsty Graham), who claims an acquaintance with a “water kelpie.”

When the sonar sweep reveals nothing, Dempsey gets ready to head home. At the last minute, however, Laura gives him Abernathy’s camera, whose film reveals something that makes him realize the key to the mystery has been under his nose all along — the young child Laura.

After its choppily edited opening reels, pic starts to develop its own low-key charm as the Danson and Richardson characters strike up a cautious relationship. Latter (sporting a convincing Scots accent) is especially good, signaling her growing attraction to the bullish American with discreet beeps that his radar only gradually picks up.

The two thesps, and Jones’ majestic score, manage to hold one’s attention even when nothing much is happening plotwise. In this respect, the 10-year-old script by U.S. writer John Fusco (“Young Guns,””The Babe”) is more a mismatched love story set in the Scottish Highlands than a monster pic: When the action finally gets going, it’s brief and magical, and the lengthy coda, which raises questions about whether it’s really a good thing to solve the Nessie legend, pivots just as much on the Dempsey-Laura thread as on the monster story.

Despite some occasionally muddy photography, production values are generally fine. The relatively brief f/x smoothly meld physical work by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop and digital trickery by London-based Peerless Camera Co.

Loch Ness

British

Production

A Gramercy Pictures (in U.S.)/Polygram Filmed Entertainment (in U.K.) release of a Working Title production, in association with Stephen Ujlaki Prods. Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Ujlaki. Co-producers, Nicky Kentish Barnes, Judith Hunt. Directed by John Henderson. Screenplay, John Fusco.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Clive Tickner; editor, Jon Gregory; music, Trevor Jones; production design, Sophie Becher; art direction, Ricky Eyres, David Minty; costume design, Nic Ede; sound design (Dolby SR Digital), Mark Auguste; sound, Ian Voigt; visual effects supervisor, Kent Houston; creature animatronics, Jim Henson's Creature Shop; computer graphics, Peerless Camera Co.; second-unit director/stunt coordinator, Terry Forrestal; second-unit camera, Steve Tickner; underwater camera, Mike Valentine; associate producer, Debra Hayward; assistant director, Waldo Roeg; casting, Ros and John Hubbard. Reviewed at 20th Century Fox preview theater, London, Feb. 5, 1996. Running time: 101 min.

With

Dr. Jonathan Dempsey - Ted Danson Laura MacFeteridge - Joely Richardson The Water Bailiff - Ian Holm Isabel - Kirsty Graham Dr. Mercer - Harris Yulin Adrian Foote - James Frain Gordon Shoals - Keith Allen Andy MacLean - Nick Brimble
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