MGM // 1996 // 101 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // August 11th, 2005
One legend remained undiscovered...until now.
Ted Danson (Three Men and a Baby) headlines this sappy little tale of a jaded academic and his collision course with a gorgeous Scottish woman, her pretentious child, a bastard of a water bailiff, and Nessie herself.
Dr. John Dempsey (Danson) is a cryptozoologist whose life is in the toilet. He's on the outs with his school. His reputation is in tatters. And his crappy car doesn't work. The final insult comes when Dempsey's dean exiles him to Scotland on a goofy assignment to track down the legendary Loch Ness monster.
Scowling and irritable, he arrives at the Loch and meets up with Adrian (James Frain, who guest-starred on 24 this year), an eager assistant champing at the bit to find evidence of the mythical beast. Dempsey's hunt faces an impasse from the cantankerous water bailiff (Ian Holm, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring), who, for mysterious reasons, is committed to thwarting the American scholar's investigation.
Between this impediment, repeated failures on the Loch, and scuffles with agitated drunken Scotsmen, Dempsey's tenure in Scotland quickly evaporates into a stint of misery. Luckily, there's Laura (Joely Richardson, Nip/Tuck), the resident hottie single mother, and her daughter Isabel to give Dempsey some guidance...and perhaps lead him to what he is seeking. That last bit is meant to be both metaphorical and literal, by the way.
Loch Ness is a completely serviceable piece of family entertainment. There's nothing terribly mind-blowing here, or original, for that matter -- ooh, a jaded scientist finds joy and wonder through a child and her hot mother! -- but overall it's a quiet, inoffensive little tale.
A good portion of the film's decency can be attributed to the high-quality cast. Ted Danson and Joely Richardson play off of each other well and are able to manufacture some tangible chemistry together. Ian Holm is a fine curmudgeon, and James Frain lends a solid helping of energy and enthusiasm as Dempsey's assistant. Even the requisite child is cute and not irritating. Danson is required to shoulder most of the dramatic load, as it is his character's arc that more or less drives the story. The plot about Nessie is a vehicle to propel the prickly Dempsey into his inevitable epiphany of happiness and joy. Ted is up to the task
The story is straightforward, and aside from a well-executed reveal toward the end, it follows a path you'll surely recognize. I'll give you a few minutes to sort out whether Dempsey and Laura get together at the end. Unfortunately, all this easygoing, syrupy good will is besmirched at the end of the film with a wholly implausible, though appropriate for Hollywood, ending. I won't spoil it, but our hero is faced with a major ethical decision and opts to execute his choice in the most nonsensical way possible.
That's about all I have to say about this little flick. It's a decent installment in the starved world of PG family films and, though cheesy in spots, manages to deliver a good viewing experience, bolstered by strong performances.
As is the case with under-the-radar MGM releases, Loch Ness is a threadbare offering. Video comes in an underperforming full-screen transfer that makes this 1996 release look a decade older than it is. Audio is a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix and does very little heavy lifting in this film. No extras.
Loch Ness isn't bad at all. It's not grand entertainment, but it's a satisfactory bit of low-key movie watching for the brood.
Not guilty. Loch and load.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Rated PG