Box Office Failures Week: Theodore Rex (1996)

Jonathan R. Betuel—who made his screenwriting debut with the critical and box office successful The Last Starfighter (1984) and his writing and directing debut with My Science Project (1985) and worked as a supervising producer on the 22-episode run of the syndicated TV Series Freddy’s Nightmares (an anthology sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street with Robert Englund hosting as Freddy)—struck a deal in with New Line Cinema for his next writing-directing effort: a buddy cop science-fiction family film . . . set in an alternate futuristic society where humans and anthropomorphic dinosaurs co-exist.

Mmm. The buddy cop film 48 Hours (1982) meets The Flintstones (1994). And the Last Starfighter and My Science Project were reasonably decent films. And it has a touch of Alien Nation (1988). This could work.

Uh, no it won’t.

Whoopi Goldberg—who won a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture for 1985’s The Color Purple—was nominated for Worst Actress at the 1996 Golden Raspberry Awards.

And it gets worse: World renowned German actor Armin Mueller-Stahl starred in this—and Shine, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor—in the same year. And what in the hell is Stephen McHattie from the BBC’s Orphan Black doing here? Richard Roundtree? Dude, you’re our favorite, ’80s ass-kicking Euro-action star of all time! What are you doing here? Why, Richard? Why? Yeah, I know you ended up in Inchon (1982) too, but still. Why?

Don’t worry. We won’t call him Barney. We’ll call him something else.

This futuristic comedy concerns the exploits of Katie Coltraine, a hard-ass police detective that’s partnered with a humanesque, upright-walking Tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaur named Theodore Rex (voiced by George Newbern, a series regular on the TV shows Scandal and Law and Order: SVU) to track down a killer of human-dinosaurs. The investigation leads the cop buddies to the lair of an evil billionaire who plans to kill off mankind by plundering the Earth into an Ice Age Armageddon. (And if this all sounds a lot like that 2018 Melissa McCarthy stinkfest The Happytime Murders, only with dinosaurs instead of Sesame Street puppets, then it probably is.)

For reasons unknown, Whoopi Goldberg signed onto the project—via a verbal agreement. Then, in October 1992, she wised up and attempted to back out of the production. And she was hit with a $20 million breach-of-contract lawsuit. When the dust settled, she got her $5 million dollar paycheck bumped up to $7 million. In a 2015 interview with the Brazilian newspaper Folha de S.Paulo, Goldberg stated Theodore Rex was the only film she regretted doing.

Seriously, Whoopi? You have no regrets doing Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Bugular, Fatal Beauty, The Telephone, and Homer and Eddie . . . after earning an Oscar nod and earning a Golden Globe back in 1985?

Remember our joke about “Hell’s Video” in our review of the 2006 “Box Office Failure” Zyzzyx Road? Whoopi’s post-Color Purple and pre-Ghost oeuvre graces those shelves as well—right next to those copies of Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo and Corky Ramono. (Man, I HATE that f’in film, just by Chris Kattan’s mugging smirk on the video box alone. It makes me want to punch Chris in the nuts and make him cry. Double for Pete Davidson. A double nut-punch for vous.)

But hey, don’t cry for Whoopi. She had a pretty good payday for starring in a 33.5 million dollar bomb that holds the distinction as the most expensive direct-to-video flick ever produced and the only direct-to-video movie—in a long list of far worse direct-to-video stinkers—to earn a Razzie nomination.

The studio’s original plans for the film’s roll out was to release it theatrically in the U.S. to coincide with Goldberg’s hosting gig at the 68th Academy Awards that year (1996). Then the film failed in four test screenings in Nevada, Tennessee, Maine, and Rhode Island (in otherwords: they knew they had a stinker on their hands and kept it out of the major test screening markets). Yes, kids—who the film was meant for in the first place—hated it. This wasn’t our beloved Sigmond and the Sea Monsters (sorry, you youngins, for the obscure ’70s TV reference)—not by a longshot. It wasn’t even The Flintstones: Yaba dabba . . . it sucks.

By 1994 the use of CGI filmmaking began to flourish and another dinosaur, well, dragon movie came out in 1996: the Dennis Quaid-starring Dragonheart, which featured Sean Connery as the voice of the dragon. All of the effects for Theodore Rex were shot-in-camera animatronics with puppeteers.

Yep. Theodore Rex was screwed.

Knowing they had a pterodactyl-sized turkey on their hands, it was decided to send the film direct-to-video in the states and Canada. However, not all hope was lost: New Line, as is a typical practice in the film world, was able to pre-sell the film overseas based on Betuel’s track record and Goldberg’s starpower. So if you have friends or family overseas—anywhere but Italy—they went to see Whoopi “walk the dinosaur.”

Uh, no they didn’t.

And you’re better off watching this Was (Not Was) video than Whoopi whoopin’ it up with talking dinosaurs.

If you absolutely must, you can watch the film for free on You Tube. Now, you know me: Any film (outside of Star Wars) that starts off with a text scrawl and/or voice over to cover up a film’s plot issues, it’s an instant pass. I barely made it through the trailer without somehow blaming it on Chris Kattan so I had an excuse to nut punch him. (And Pete Davidson.)

You can learn more about the film’s crazed production snafus with an interview (and transcription) from the How Did this Get Made? podcast featuring director Jonathan R. Betuel and producer Richard Abramson.

Betuel hasn’t made a movie since. And that’s sucks because we love The Last Starfighter and My Science Project here at B&S About Movies.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.

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