Theodore Rex (1995)

Theodore Rex is a kid-friendly futuristic buddy cop comedy about a loose-cannon cop (Whoopi Goldberg in a skin-tight catsuit?!) who’s teamed up with a wisecracking dinosaur (?!) to solve a “dinocide” and save the earth from a mad billionaire’s scheme to wipe out all humanity by triggering a second Ice Age.

It’s basically Blade Runner with Barney. And Whoopi Goldberg. And fart jokes. Lots and lots of fart jokes. Even after two viewings it still blows my mind that a mainstream film this bizarre actually exists.

Did I mention the fart jokes?

My first encounter with Theodore Rex was at the local VHS rental shop when I was a wee youngin’. My first thought while analyzing the VHS box cover art: Cool, a dinosaur! And it looks just like the dinosaurs from “Dinosaurs.” I love that show!

My second thought: Whoopi Goldberg?!

Third thought: That so-called “Rex” has FOUR digits on each hand, NOT TWO. Everyone knows a Rex has only two digits per hand.

Fourth Thought: If they overlooked that detail, what the fuck else did they fuck up?

Even at the age of 9 I could smell a turkey. After all, if it was any good how come I never saw any trailers or TV ads promoting its theatrical release?

That’s ‘cause Rex never had a theatrical release. It did so poorly in test screenings that New Line Cinema decided to dump it straight-to-video. With a budget of $33.5 million, Theodore Rex was the most expensive direct-to-video release of all time.

Whoopi Goldberg only appeared in this dino dookie of a movie under threat of legal action. When she tried to back out of the project, the producers filed a $20 million lawsuit against her. The eventual settlement only cost the producers an additional $2 million to Goldberg’s salary. It only cost Goldberg her dignity.

But Whoopi got her revenge with one of the most bland and bitter performances I’ve ever seen. To say she phones it in would be an insult to telephones everywhere. In every scene she’s in, it’s painfully obvious that she does NOT want to be there.

She’s even pissed off in scenes where she’s supposed to be happy:

I’m so happy we saved the world, Teddy. No, really! That’s just how I smile.

To add insult to injury, this court-ordered appearance “won” Whoopi the Razzie Award for “Worst Performance by an Actress.” And I say undeservedly so. I wouldn’t classify what she does on-screen as a “performance.” That would imply she was actually performing. She spends all her screen time sulking.

The narrative of Theodore Rex is a textbook example of a screenwriter trying to cram too many ideas, too many genres and too many subplots into a single script. The result is a film in which everything is painfully underdeveloped.

The film begins with this line of text: “Once Upon a Time in the Future…”

This sets the perfect tone for a story this bizarre, conveying a sense of both fantasy and science fiction. The invocation of “Once Upon a Time” suggests that this tale takes place in an unknown, undefined future that may never actually happen.

But then they immediately fuck it all up with this opening crawl:

I thought “Once Upon a Time” meant it takes place in an unspecified time. Now it takes place at a specific time – the present day. A present day in which dinosaurs once again walk the earth? Or is this an alternate present? I frankly don’t know. And after five minutes I stopped caring.

This opening crawl isn’t even necessary. It conveys information that’s revealed later on in the film. And in a more artful way I might add. (Not that anything in Theodore Rex qualifies as being artful.) If anything it spoils any sense of surprise or ambiguity that would make this movie more enjoyable. It would be like watchingThe Empire Strikes Back in 1980 and seeing an opening crawl that looked like this:

We don’t need to know that Darth Vader is Luke’s father until the end of the film. And we don’t need to know that Kane is the villain until the middle of Act 2. And we sure-as-shootin’ don’t need to know about his dastardly plan before the film even starts. However, to say that this unnecessary spoiler single-handedly ruins the film would be exaggeration of the highest order.

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