Exploiting our Archives: Control Nathan and Clint: Theodore Rex (1995)
Well, folks, for the very first entry in “Control Nathan and Clint”—a multi-media (podcast and online) feature where we allow the big-hearted saints who contribute to the podcast’s Patreon an opportunity to decide which of two impossibly-awful looking movies my co-host Clint and I must watch and then talk about for Nathan Rabin’s Happy Cast—I included a ringer.
I’ve been contemplating writing about Theodore Rex ever since I decided to make a de-contextualized still image of a somber-looking Theodore Rex, his arm in a sling, standing alongside a futuristic Whoopi Goldberg at a ceremony, a permanent fixture of the site.
Why did I decide to pay tribute to Theodore Rex in just about every piece that posts on Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place? I suppose the randomness appealed to me initially. I also liked how melancholy the whole tableau seemed: it feels so wrong and yet so right to see an anthropomorphic dinosaur and wacky wisecracking lady cop look so positively funereal.
I also liked how it branded Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place in the weirdest, seemingly least commercial way. It was a way of establishing, without explanation, that this site was different from every other pop culture website in existence, if only because it is, if I’m not mistaken, the only one so overwhelmingly festooned with the same incongruously haunting image from Theodore Rex, a film I'd never actually been written about for the site.
That changes today. I figured I’m destined to re-watch Theodore Rex for the website that pays cryptic homage to it on a constant basis so I made it one of the two options for the first Control Nathan and Clint, knowing that it had a very good chance of beating its competitor, the Whoopi Goldberg/Gerard Depardieu fantasy Bogus.
I’m glad I did. I was underwhelmed by Theodore Rex as both a motion picture and a camp artifact the first time around, when I wrote about it for My Year of Flops. As a work of the cinema, Theodore Rex remains an abomination, but as a camp artifact it’s uniquely insane. Let’s just say that if Blade Runner and the sitcom Dinosaurs fucked while they were each black-out drunk, then had a hideous baby neither wanted to claim credit for, it would probably look and feel a lot like 1995’s Theodore Rex, which at the time of its release had the dubious distinction of being the single most expensive direct-to-video movie of all time, with a budget of just under thirty-five million dollars.
The craziness of Theodore Rex begins with its opening scroll. Opening scroll! For the love of God, why would a movie like Theodore Rex think it could get away with an opening scroll?
As I wrote in my Hellbound article, not just every movie gets to have an opening scroll. It’s not a right, it’s a privilege, and one reserved largely for Star Wars movies. Hellbound does not deserve an opening scroll. Theodore Rex deserves one even less. Yet that does not keep the movie from indulging its occasional Star Wars ambitions with the following scroll:
“ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE FUTURE…
*At midnight tomorrow, Billionaire Elizar Kane will launch his New Eden missile to bring on another Ice Age
*After Mankind is extinct, Kane will reanimate the pairs of all earth’s animals he keeps frozen in his ark and create his vision of paradise.
*One hours ago, two workers escaped from the New Eden compound and are racing to tell the police about Kane’s master plan.
You know what information that opening scroll left out? Oh, I don’t know, maybe that dinosaurs have come back, and they can fucking talk and have their own shitty-ass civilization that’s just like ours but clumsier and more cumbersome? To me, that’s burying the lead a little.
A good opening scroll ushers you into an enchanting and fantastical world and establishes some of the rules of that universe. The opening scroll of Theodore Rex, in sharp contrast, just clumsily vomits up the plot because it assumes, understandably, that it is impossible to insult the intelligence, or underestimate the audience for a futuristic mismatched buddy comedy pairing an affable talking dinosaur with the audacity to follow his dreams with a tough-talking black human cop who’s also a cyborg or a robot or a sentient computer program or something.
We’re then treated to Theodore Rex having a terrible nightmare, followed by Theodore muttering to himself blandly while puttering around an apartment that suggests what the set of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse would look like if it were designed by someone with no sense of creativity.
Theodore, you see, is a good-hearted dreamer. He’s also a rank sentimentalist, the kind of sap who says things like, “Dinos and humans are here to rise above our limitations, you know, make our dreams come true.”
Theodore’s dream is to be the first dinosaur detective. In a neat bit of synchronicity, Theodore is afforded an opportunity to solve the very first dinosaur murder (or Dinocide, as it is pointlessly called on more than one occasion) as a cheap public relations ploy to make the police department seem more progressive than they actually are.
Theodore is paired with Coltrane, a street-smart cop with attitude played by Whoopi Golberg towards the end of her curiously long stint as a bankable movie star. If Goldberg recites her dialogue through gritted teeth and seems like she’s onscreen against her will, it’s for a very good reason.
Goldberg, who thought it was a swell idea for her then-boyfriend Ted Danson to do blackface comedy in public and also star in the movie The Associate, tried desperately to get out of starring in Theodore Rex but was successfully sued into appearing in the movie for seven million dollars.
There are hostages reading kidnappers’ ransom demands who seem more at ease and happy to be filmed than Goldberg does here. Goldberg’s whole vibe as a movie star implicitly says, “Can you believe the bullshit I have to put up with?” That’s true both of Goldberg as a film performer in the likes of Eddie, The Associate and Bogus and as a character. It’s never been truer than in Theodore Rex.
Theodore Rex and Coltrane are given roughly one day to solve what is apparently the very first dinocide in recorded history. One day! Roughly twenty-four hours. To establish just how hard this “24 hour” deadline is, halfway through, Theodore and Coltrane are angrily dressed down by their superior for not making any progress in twelve hours.
Twelve hours! Christ, I’m not sure most new police partners have made it past the, “Hey, did you go to college? If so, where?” and “Do you have kids?” getting-to-know each other phase at the twelve hour mark, and unlike Theodore and Coltrane, those people have the advantage of belonging to the same species.
People watch Theodore Rex to be entertained, sure. But they also watch it to be educated on the nitty-gritty details of police work. The movie fails audiences with its lack of verisimilitude.
It turns out that Theodore Rex and Coltrane have to do a whole lot more than solve an unprecedented murder in a day: they also have to save the world when Elizar Kane (Armin Mueller Stahl) wants to destroy the planet so that he can rebuild it in his image as its God and ruler. But then we know that because it’s in the opening scroll.
In one of a seemingly endless series of miscalculations, the filmmakers make the almost impressively checked-out Goldberg (who stops just short of rolling her eyes and making derisive jerk-off motions with her hands to convey her disdain for the material) a straight woman and Theodore Rex the wacky cut-up.
Most of the time Theodore Rex is affably dull, a big-hearted klutz who just wants to do good but is perpetually screwing up due to his size and clumsiness. Then there are times throughout the movie when Theodore comes off like a talentless open-mic night comedian doing third rate Robin Williams shtick.
Theodore Rex takes place in a bizarre alternate universe where talking dinosaurs share the globe with human beings yet, judging from the movie’s pop-culture references, this world nevertheless has Right Said Fred and “I’m Too Sexy” as well as Saturday Night Live and its muscle-bound morons Hans and Frans because Theodore Rex makes jokes about both of them. That’s when he’s not favoring us with a Dirty Harry impersonation.
Alternately, Theodore Rex sounds like Mike Myers doing his “Scottish guy” character when, while outfitted in a tartan kilt and holding up bagpipes, he complains, “I’m getting a wee bit of breeze in my lowlands, lassie.” I think he’s saying his dinosaur penis is getting cold because kilts traditionally don’t cover up a whole lot.
In addition to lots of bad ad-libbing, Theodore Rex shares with many of the children’s films I’ve written about here and elsewhere a surreal and disconcerting over-emphasis on sexuality. At a dinosaur night spot, a dinosaur pervert makes goo-goo eyes at Goldberg’s disgusted shamus and we’re told that the dinosaur “likes soft skins” in a way that makes it disturbingly apparent that this talking, horny dinosaur wants to cross species boundaries so that it can make sweet, passionate, inter-species love with Katie Coltrane.
I don’t need Theodore Rex to put that mental image in my mind. I do not need some woefully misguided kid’s film forcing audiences to think about Dinosaur-on-Whoopi action. I don’t want to kink-shame anyone, and if that’s your cup of tea, well, good for you, as long as you’re not hurting anyone. I just don’t need those kinds of inter-species sexual implications in a silly kid’s dinosaur movie.
But the movie’s biggest, most bizarre sexual miscalculation lie in making Molly Rex, Theodore’s love interest and the film’s female lead, a dinosaur version of Mae West, all va-va-voom sensuality and leering come-ons. I kind of expected Theodore Rex to badly rip off Lethal Weapon. I wasn’t expecting it to ineptly steal from Myra Breckinridge as well.
One of the hallmarks of terrible kid’s films is that the filmmakers set out to make characters that should not be sexualized in any way as fuckable as humanly possible. That’s Theodore Rex and Molly Rex. The filmmakers seemingly had Jessica Rabbit in mind for its old-school sex-pot man-killer but it’s worth noting that Jessica Rabbit was a sexy woman, and not a three thousand pound dinosaur with too much eye shadow.
The filmmakers set out to make a lady dinosaur everyone would want to fuck. They failed on so many different levels. When Molly lustily proclaims, “You’ve got some stuff in you” during a giant talking dinosaurs-dance-seductively scene, she’s talking about Theodore's moves on the dance floor but real talk, she’s also talking about what he’s packing downstairs, and I’m not talking about a giant tail that hits multiple dudes in the nut sack unexpectedly.
Theodore Rex is full of dinosaur fart jokes, including one reference to a “butt trumpet” yet it still hilariously imagines that it has the gravitas to eke genuine emotion out of Theodore Rex calling out, “Why?!!?!?!?!” after his partner is shot.
The 1995 mega-flop is accidentally a strong argument for CGI. The movie is a terrible advertisement for practical effects and real sets. If it were made a decade later, the entire world could have been created using CGI. Instead, the movie feels like it was filmed in a giant airplane hangar on mostly bare, mostly black sets with an eye towards making the movie’s embarrassingly fake, cheap-looking dinosaur suit look less glaringly awful.
I’m sure the actors and crew people working on the film imagined that at some point people would come in and, you know, make everything look less amateurish and shitty using computers and technology and money but that obviously never happened. At a certain point, they seem to have just said, “Eh, fuck it.”and stopped trying.
Theodore Rex ends, perplexingly, with the words, “See Ya.” It’s as if the filmmakers didn’t realize that movies didn’t actually have to say goodbye to audiences, and could just end.
The people behind Theodore Rex clearly did not know how to end a movie. Then again, they did not know how to actually make one either.
Then again, “See ya” carries the vague implication that we’ll be seeing this twosome and the magnificent world they inhabit again, in a sequel, sure, but also, like another movies with a grandiose opening scroll, for sequels, then prequels, then more sequels.
What is Theodore Rex, after all, if not a low-wattage, low-energy version of Jar Jar Binks, Jeb Bush to the Phantom Menace irritant’s motor-mouthed Donald Trump?
It’s a little like the laughably presumptuous final words of Mac & Me, which delusionally insisted that the characters would be returning to the big screen. They were not.
For everyone other than us, the writer and readers of Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place, Theodore Rex barely even happened. Its status as the most expensive direct-to-video movie up to that time gives it the appropriately dubious distinction of being the single most unnecessarily, needlessly, inexplicably costly movie that our culture not bring ourselves to give a fuck about.
Despite costing just under thirty-five million dollars to make,Theodore Rex barely exists. The big newspapers didn’t write about a theatrical release that didn’t happen. At the video stores where I worked in college it was a gawked-at curiosity more than a popular attraction. It came and went too early to be prime fodder for mocking commentary on the internet.
And yet here we are. Theodore Rex ends with the scene the image that adorns 90 percent of the articles on this site of an incongruously somber-looking Theodore Rex sitting next to Whoopi Goldberg is taken from. In it, Theodore Rex is promoted to detective and also accidentally hits a captain played by Richard Roundtree in the crotch.
We also learn that Theodore Rex can choose his partner, and accordingly chose the woman he recently saved the world alongside. Once again returning to the bottomless comedy well of Theodore Rex randomly recycling pop-culture catch-phrases, he tells his mortified colleague, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
Not so fast, there, Teddy. For everyone else, Theodore Rex was an end. A bitter, bitter end. Not for us. Nope, here Theodore Rex and Whoopi Goldberg have not only stuck around, they’ve become weird, unofficial mascots of Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place. I’ve made a career out of lovingly reassessing maligned little cinematic orphans. I’m perversely proud to give at least a single image from Theodore Rex a permanent home here in my weird little world, just as I’m overjoyed that you’ve similarly adopted a shaggy orphan of a pop culture writer and gave me the very best, very weirdest kind of online home.
Also, the 20th person to pledge to https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappycast will get the above autographed, used copy of Theodore Rex for free! Pledge as little as a dollar, and you have a pretty good chance of getting the DVD that I watched myself!
Join the Nathan Rabin Happy’s Place community and get neat bonuses like voting on Control Nathan Rabin and Control Nathan and Clint polls and access to exclusive content at https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace