Awfully Good: Theodore Rex

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

Theodore Rex (1995)

Director: Jonathan Betuel
Stars: Whoopi Goldberg, George Newbern, Richard Roundtree

A no-nonsense cop is forced to partner with a rookie dinosaur detective to stop another ice age.

The story of how THEODORE REX came to exist is probably more interesting than the actual movie itself. There are more detailed accounts of the troubled production out there (might I suggest the episode of How Did This Get Made?), but here’s a basic rundown: After writing THE LAST STARFIGHTER, Jonathan Betuel conceived of a new spin on the buddy cop movie. It was a dark and gritty sci-fi tale set in a world where dinosaurs and humans co-exist and paired detectives of different species ala ALIEN NATION. Betuel and his producers spent five years developing the script and raising money, eventually coming up with a budget of over $30 million and a verbal agreement with Whoopi Goldberg to star in the movie. They started pre-production and everything was on track—until Whoopi Goldberg remembered she had just won an Oscar and was about to star in a movie with a talking, farting dinosaur.

A good fart joke is a precision science.

The filmmakers proceeded to do what anyone trying to maintain a healthy working environment would do—they sued their star in a very public manner and forced her to do the movie against her will. The details of the lawsuit are completely crazy, including a secret bombshell voice recording, a judge who allegedly ended up with a producer credit on the film, and Whoopi Goldberg getting $8 million to do a talking dinosaur movie. As production was finally gearing up, Betuel had decided that he would also direct the film, which he admittedly was unqualified for. This lead to confusion on set and continual rewrites of the script during filming, until it morphed from an adult satire in to the bizarre child’s nightmare you see before you.

Naturally, the studio watched what I assume is a single minute of finished footage and decided there was no way in Jurassic hell they could release the film in theaters, instead deciding to banish it straight to home video. And with a final budget of $33.5 million, THEODORE REX immediately gained the title of “Most Expensive Direct-to-Video Release of All Time.”

Oh, to be an extra on that set…

Now, in case you’re curious if the final product really is that bad, THEODORE REX opens with a title card that says: “Once upon a time… in the future.” (Don’t think about that too much or you might end up with an aneurysm.) This is then followed by an opening crawl that’s presented in bullet point format. Before you start wondering why they couldn’t even be bothered to write everything out in a coherent paragraph, there’s also a credit for “The Voice of Teddy Rex by George Newbern,” so I’m pretty sure the titles were written by someone who is not fluent in English.

And then, if you make it past the opening credits, you’re immediately treated to a scene where a dinosaur gets suicide bombed by a butterfly. It’s like the film is saying, “F*ck you and good luck!”

We’re about two or three JURASSIC PARK sequels away from this.

For some reason, the film’s opening crawl explains in great detail the villain’s evil plot to destroy the world (which is still treated as a big reveal in the third act), but it completely neglects to even bring up the fact that the film takes place in an alternate universe where dinosaurs and humans coexist together. I don’t know, that kind of seems like information that might be important to the viewer, especially since THEODORE REX doesn’t bother to explain its world AT ALL. It’s briefly mentioned at some point that a scientist has been using genetic science to bring back extinct species, including the dinosaurs. But why are dinosaurs the only ones who talk and act like humans? How did they develop their own religion and funeral rituals? Why do all dinosaurs have psychic connections to each other and feel pain when another dinosaur dies? Why are they all in 12-step programs for being recovering carnivores?

I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS. This has to be the most frustrating cinematic universe ever. (Sorry, DCEU.)

Not the worst date Whoopi Goldberg has been on.

There’s only one way to describe Whoopi Goldberg’s performance here: someone who has exhausted all of her legal options. You can just feel her raw, seething hatred in every shot, like she’s rushing through all of her lines so she can start yelling obscenities at everyone as soon as they yell “cut.” And can you really blame her?

Goldberg still fares better than the title character, who is such a bizarre and annoying presence throughout—partially due to the goofy animatronic puppet and also thanks to the overacting voice performance by George Newbern. Teddy is a dinosaur who wants to be a detective and he’s obsessed with cookies. That’s all you really have to go on for 92 minutes. Oh, and he’s also obsessed with a Jessica Rabbit-style female dinosaur voiced by Carol Kane. Their romantic subplot, filled with 10-foot tall puppets doing song and dance routines, is easily the worst part of an already bad movie.

Even Shaft can’t believe he’s in this movie.

What’s really sad about THEODORE REX is that they went through all the trouble with the lawsuit and the years of development hell and the story and script they ended up with is just not worth the hassle. The filmmakers clearly didn’t have a grasp on what the movie was supposed to be about or the intended audience. There are tons of cartoonish gags and potty humor that would suggest it’s targeted for children. However, no kids are going to want to sit through the awkwardly-handled subtext on racism (“soft-skins” vs. “scales”) or all the full-length musical numbers. And nobody should be subjected to the montage where Teddy looks for a new uniform and tries on a number of different ethnic outfits and does offensive accents to match. When the credits rolled, I still didn’t know if the movie was supposed to be serious or comedic. (Although watching a giant, awkwardly-proportioned dinosaur costume with an enormous tail bumble around the carefully-built sets was pretty amusing for an hour and a half.)

And for all the times where we criticize a filmmaker for not knowing how to end a movie, you definitely can’t do that with THEODORE REX. No, the powers-that-be knew exactly the impactful image they wanted to leave the audience with and that powerful closing shot is… a title card that says “SEE YA.” It’s brilliant in its simplicity and for being informal and fun while also vaguely threatening.


God help us all.

Cookies, butt trumpets and more.

I can’t even begin to describe what’s in this greatest hits collection. Although it’s good to know that the best way to kidnap a child is to put a henchman inside a fake arcade game in an abandoned alley.

Nope. Although given how the internet works I’m sure there’s erotic THEODORE REX fanfiction out there somewhere.

Life finds a way. Buy this movie here!

Take a shot or drink every time:

  • Teddy’s mouth does not match what he’s saying
  • There’s a joke or gag involving Teddy’s tail
  • Teddy has bad breath
  • Whoopi Goldberg says “He’s a dinosaur”
  • There’s some dinosaur bodily function

Double shot if:

  • Teddy encounters a cookie

Thanks to Erin and Shane for suggesting this week’s movie!

Seen a movie that should be featured on this column? Shoot Jason an email or follow him on Twitter and give him an excuse to drink.


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