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Case Number 03147: Small Claims Court

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Theodore Rex

New Line // 1995 // 92 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // August 1st, 2003

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All Rise...

The Charge

How did this megabeast miss the tarpits?

The Case

When an innocent dinosaur (just wait—you'll see) and an unknown clone both turn up dead, all fingers point to renowned philanthropist and DNA expert Elizar Kane. The benevolent inventor, who successfully brought the long extinct reptiles back to life (complete with complex human personalities and the ability to speak), denies any responsibility. But what all the citizens of this strange alternate universe—where "scales" and "skins" live together in an unhappy truce—fail to realize is that Kane is plotting against them. He is planning to destroy the sun, plunging the entire planet into a new ice age. Along with his private physician, the slinky Dr. Shade, and his henchman, the evil Mr. Edge, the incredibly wealthy madman will be saved by staying frozen on his own private ark, a massive interstellar vessel that just so happens to be filled with two of each species on the planet. It's up to a disgraced Grid cop named Coltraine and a wannabe dinosaur detective named Teddy to solve the murders and make the link to Kane before it's too late. With a little over 24 hours and incredibly limited resources, our mismatched buddies in law enforcement must rely on each other, and their individual instinctual traits, to save the day.

The battle to make and the eventual fate of Theodore Rex is a far more entertaining and interesting story than the tale told by the film proper. On a professional high after winning the Oscar for 1990's Ghost, star Whoopi Goldberg boycotted this film, claiming that she would be committing career suicide by appearing in it. The producers slapped her with a breach of contract lawsuit, and before you can say "Boxing Helena," Ms. Color Purple herself, dressed like an extra from the dominatrix version of Robocop, was attempting to emote next to a foam latex reject from Jim Henson's Dinosaurs. Indeed, that rather misguided TV series, which more or less re-imagined The Flintstones from the prehistoric reptile's point of view, was another nail in this failed film's cinematic coffin. After all, who would want to pay big screen prices for something they could consume for free on the old broadcast boob tube? But the biggest meteor to strike this antediluvian tomfoolery was a little CGI action flick called Jurassic Park, which found a new technological way of making the oversized lizards of yore seem frightening and fun again. No guy in a zipper back suit with a poor Disney style animatronic face could satisfy a crowd hungry for more of Uncle Steve's digital Dinos. It's no wonder then that once this $35 million dud was in the can, it sat on the shelf until New Line decided to make it the first mega-budgeted direct to video victim. At least Whoopi got the last laugh, sort of: she gave a bored-with-it-all performance that appears even that much more mundane onscreen. Theodore Rex faded quickly, leaving Ms. Goldberg to answer for other equally memorable missteps (Bogus, The Associate, Eddie).

And it deserved to die. Theodore Rex is a woefully underdeveloped premise that gets substantially worse in the execution. No attempt is made to justify the parallel universe the film supposedly lives in, one where cloning is rampant, a rag tag group of body poachers known as the Zip Heads rule the streets and police are implanted with bionic computerized gobbledygook. And then there are the dinosaurs; walking, talking, farting, eating, dressing, and dancing prehistoric lizards which all have blah Caucasian voices and theme park employee character suit believability credentials. Sure, one can argue that this Blade Runner Barney is aimed directly at the same squirts who find a huge purple pile of pandering puke educational and entertaining. But then there is the whole Armageddon, end of the world Future Shock violence to explain away. Any child who finds Teddy loveable and cuddly will cringe when a similar "special species friend" is laid out on the morgue slab, dino-damage in full view. You could argue it's a parable, a fable about tolerance and race with just a splash of environmental gosh darn Earth First philosophy to round out the left wing leanings. But aside from a line where a white dork calls Whoopi's characters a "specist," the cartoon capering destabilizes the whole human/inhuman subtext. Along with some extremely elemental CGI work (we get to see an impressive butterfly, Jacko-style morphing, and an incredibly crap cityscape) and some completely out of left field puppetry (could someone explain the guy who lives in the briefcase…please?!), Theodore Rex becomes a confused, annoying experience that only the most primitive cave dweller would find remotely interesting.

New Line has chosen to treat this "should have been extinct too" motion picture massacre in a kid friendly fashion that somehow tries to connect this crud to other decidedly juvenile fare like Monkey Trouble and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle films. First we get a widescreen/full screen choice that seems silly, until we remember that most parents like their "visual babysitters" without that annoying original aspect ratio. Either way, in 1.85:1 anamorphic or in a glass teat filling presentation, the image is incredibly sharp, hyper colorful, and far too good to represent the actual film offered. Director Johnathan Betuel confuses set design for tone, and his psychedelic black light blitzkrieg, which combines fluorescents with primary colors to recreate 1970s pot posters and over-stimulate baby's tiny brain, is that much more mind altering on DVD. Sadly, aside from some trailers and a stupid Pick-a-Flick game, we get nothing else of substance. It would have been worth the money to get Betuel, or better yet Goldberg, to sit down and set the record straight, once and for all, about what they now think of this infamous stinker. Better yet, a chronicle of the behind the scenes skullduggery, from the initial pitch, to Whoopi's walk, to the final savage screenings that led to the multiplex bypass, would have at least made this disc a historic document for the film fan. As it stands, all we get from Theodore Rex is a lot of lame tale slapstick, a few inspired production plans and a disgruntled superstar trying her best not to look "hip-y" in her leather wetsuit. It may be more famous for being so infamous, but now that it's seen the light of digital day, it can be appreciated for what it truly is: a hopelessly mixed up mess of Mesozoic proportions.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 46

Perp Profile

Studio: New Line
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 1995
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
Genres:
• All Ages
• Bad

Distinguishing Marks

• Trailers
• Pick-a-Flick Game
• DVD-ROM Content

Accomplices

• IMDb








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