26 December 2011

Theodore Rex

United States – 1995
Director – Jonathan Betuel
New Line Home Video, 1996, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 32 minutes

Sometimes in the process of poisoning my mind with all these films I stumble across one that, despite its relative availability, just demands closer inspection. After watching Theodore Rex, there are a lot of things going through my mind. It’s a mess of confusion and wonderment up there, a jumble of emotion, fright, anger and even some sadness. I feel a little bit dirty. In case you are too young, have forgotten, or never had the pleasure of knowing at all, I’ll give you a quick refresher on the plot. In a nominally sci-fi future dystopia, detective Katie Coltrane (Whoopi Goldberg) partners with a bumbling, human-sized talking Tyrannosaurus Rex (“Teddy”) to solve the murders of several other dinosaurs. Much “hilarity” ensues. However, there is something much more problematic here than the fact that a talking dinosaur has just been given a job as a cop.

On the surface Teddy is an “adult” who drinks, chases women and has a job.  But because he talks, dresses and acts like a child, he is the film’s demographic selling point and titular hero.  Despite, or perhaps because of, his best efforts to channel Axel Foley, our “hero” is given all the attributes of the constantly frightened or mistake-prone sidekick. The subsequent hour and a half wallows in the resentment of his human counterparts. They make no secret of their contempt when such an obviously inferior creature is given a toy job on the police force in order to placate dino-rights activists, (I’m not making this shit up.) Even Whoopi uses the closet-bigot’s time honored phrase “you people,” (errr, dinosaurs.) In this light, we must recall that Theodore Rex is a product of the decade that gave us such PC Tokenism as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the backlash against Affirmative Action. As such, its bitterness towards childlike-adults (read: the mentally handicapped) reeks of the sort of recrimination familiar to an artist forced to sacrifice his aesthetic vision on the altar of commercial viability. Beneath its kiddie, buddy-cop exterior, Theodore Rex is an agonized cry of outrage at the decline of that great imperialist institution, “meritocracy”.

When confronted with movies of highly subjective quality, one often hears the question “why did this seem like a good idea?” This is an understandable response, a reflexive reaction to offended sensibilities, but it’s too loosely used against movies that venture into uncharted territory. Specifically the question lacks definition, being too subjective to serve as any real criterion. Humans are after all gifted with creative, imaginative minds which should be used and enjoyed even if their vision is sometimes more than a little out of their grasp. This film however is one movie for which this overused question is entirely appropriate. The anti-hero has a long tradition in narrative storytelling. Theodore Rex however, takes the unprecedented step of removing the hyphen from the trope and being literally against its hero. This sort of meta-ethical flip-flopping is dangerous, because it dissolves the existential barriers between film, audience and film-maker. It is a mind-warping paradox that can lead to feelings of betrayal and revulsion for all three parties, and ultimately to the sort of resentment that causes a writer/director to quit making films altogether.


Ty said...

Great review! Always heard this was awful and definitely a tough sit.

Anonymous said...

If there's one thing I can't deal with more than a dinosaur in clothes, it's a dinosaur in shoes. Who would make them? How much would they cost? How long could they last?

The Goodkind said...

Good questions, why would a dinosaur need shoes at all? I want logic here and I'm just not getting any.