Whoopi Goldberg is best known today for being one of the hosts of “The View,” a show you never watch yet somehow keep hearing about. Before that she held the coveted center position on the political discussion program “Hollywood Squares,” a job previously held by the eminent scholar Dr. Paul Lynde.
But before THAT, Whoopi Goldberg was an actress. She did a couple of serious things like “The Color Purple” before turning her attention to the milieu in which she would find her greatest success, that of cackling nonsense. She cracked wise and called people “child” in “Sister Act,” “Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit,” “The Little Rascals,” “Made in America,” “Sister Act 3: Nun Too Soon,” “Sister Act 4: Forgive Me, Father, For I Have Sung,” “Boys on the Side,” and “Sister Act 5: Bloodsport,” to name just a few and to make up a few others.
It was during that stretch in the 1990s that Whoopi starred in the film that would secure her place in the annals of Hollywood lore: “Theodore Rex,” about a cop whose partner is a talking dinosaur. The film was famous at the time for going straight to video because test audiences hated it. (Bear in mind that test audiences the same year evidently had no objections to “Lawnmower Man 2” and “Kazaam.”) At a cost of $35 million, “Theodore Rex” was one of the most expensive straight-to-video films to date, as well as one of the worst films to cost $35 million. All that money is up there on the screen, though. The dinosaur costumes look like they cost $35 each, and there are about a million of them.
The film is set in a future America where the dinosaur-cloning procedures depicted in the science documentary “Jurassic Park” have been improved. These newly cloned dinosaurs aren’t much larger than an especially fat human, are capable of speech, and do not eat people. None of those things were true of the “Jurassic Park” dinosaurs, so SUCK IT, John Hammond.
The other nice thing about these dinosaurs is that they can be pushed around. They live as second-class citizens and are not taken seriously, no matter how smart (none of them are smart) or graceful (none of them are graceful) they are. A casual observer might assume the motivating factor for cloning the dinosaurs in the first place was that humans had run out of groups to oppress and needed somebody new.
Whatever the actual reason was, now there are lots dinosaurs shufflin’ around whatever city this is. One of the dinos is Theodore “Teddy” Rex (voiced by George Newbern), an ordinary T. rex who works in public relations for the police department but dreams of being a detective. You have heard that a T. rex’s arms were shrimpy and useless, but Teddy’s are pretty functional. His tail, however, is completely beyond his control. It’s constantly knocking things over and wreaking havoc and generally giving the impression that Teddy did not even have a tail until this morning. This is for comedy, because it is funny when someone’s tail bumps into stuff three hundred and fifty thousand times in 90 minutes.
Teddy gets his chance to be a cop when one of his own kind is murdered in cold blood — which, to be fair, is the only way a dinosaur can be murdered — and the police commissioner (Richard Roundtree), seeking to curry favor with the dinosaur community, assigns Teddy to the case. Teddy is paired with Katie Coltrane (Whoopi Goldberg), an experienced cop who DOES NOT WANT a dinosaur as her partner, because she is racist against dinosaurs, and also possibly because dinosaurs are animals. The movie seems to think that being able to talk means the dinosaurs should be treated like humans, but parrots and ventriloquist dummies can talk, too, and nobody’s campaigning for their rights.
Because it is The Future, Katie Coltrane is not an ordinary cop. She is “bio-ware,” a human with some computer components wired into her. I thought she was a robot at first, but no, she is bio-ware. She is probably offended when you call her the R-word. Storywise, there is no reason for Coltrane not to be an ordinary human being. But since she is partly electronic, the filmmakers have an excuse to dress her in a skin-tight black rubber bodysuit not unlike Catwoman’s, thus fulfilling the dreams of countless bondage fetishists and writers of Whoopi Goldberg fan fiction.
We already know who killed the dinosaur, by the way. It was a comet! It came back to finish the job it started 65 million years ago. No, just kidding, it was someone employed by billionaire Elizar Kane (Armin Mueller-Stahl), the geneticist who cloned the dinos to begin with. The whole dinosaur community, Teddy included, views Kane as a benevolent creator and father figure, but that’s only because they don’t know that he has nefarious secret plans, even though his Evil Villain accent should be a dead giveaway.
Kane’s goal is to bring about a new Ice Age to wipe out mankind, then reanimate the pairs of extinct animals he has frozen in his lair and create a “New Eden.” Why he wants to do any of this is not explained. The villain’s motives are none of the movie’s concern. The movie is a little surprised you would even ask. Anyway, Kane is going to cause this Ice Age by launching a missile — the kind of missile that causes Ice Ages, duh — and one of the dinos found out and was going to tell the police and had to get whacked.
But Teddy and Coltrane don’t know any of this. The movie only told us so that we wouldn’t suffer from any surprises or intrigue. Investigating the dinocide, Teddy and Coltrane do the buddy-cop thing where they bicker, ineptly stumble upon clues, and say sarcastic things to everyone they meet. It’s like “Lethal Weapon,” only with Whoopi Goldberg and a prehistoric monster instead of Danny Glover and a prehistoric monster. And instead of actual comedy, we get Teddy doing random impersonations of easy-to-impersonate movie stars like Bogart and Schwarzenegger, and Teddy and Coltrane both making fun of an English character’s accent. (That’s really all they’ve got for her. When you see movie characters resort to accent-mocking, you might as well get a telegram from the screenwriter saying, “I have given up on my profession, and indeed on life altogether, and have sent this telegram as a final notice of my apathy, may heaven have mercy on my soul, stop.”)
Our cops go to a dinosaur nightclub to look for leads. This is where we notice that while the movie’s dinosaur costumes aren’t very good, at least there are a lot of them. This is also where we meet Teddy’s love interest, a singer named Molly (voiced by Carol Kane). Also, a triceratops flirts with Coltrane, which may sound like an unlikely pairing, but remember that Whoopi dated Ted Danson.
The murder turns out to be pretty easy to solve because the assassin killed the victim with a specially designed explosive that is easily traced back to its source. Teddy notices the easy-to-notice evidence of the explosive on the victim’s body, which impresses Coltrane and the coroner, who had both not noticed it despite its easy-to-notice nature. The movie wants to eventually arrive at the point where Teddy has proven his worth as a police officer, so it gives him simple tasks like this and pretends he is AMAZING for accomplishing them, the way you praise a 2-year-old for pooping in the toilet, or Louisiana for not being ranked 50th in something.
Despite his fervent desire to be a cop, Teddy is reluctant to use a gun under any circumstances. Normally I would agree that access to weapons should not be granted to genetically engineered clones of extinct animals, especially species with notoriously poor dexterity, but Teddy should have thought of that before he joined the force. In the end he defeats Kane by outsmarting him, no guns required, and is proud of himself for avoiding violence. I admire the sentiment, but let’s be honest, some situations are best handled by just shooting everybody, a thought that I suspect crosses Whoopi’s mind every day on “The View.”