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Tammy and the T-Rex
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by Jay Seaver

"Now restored to the specific sort of bad movie it always should have been."
3 stars

If I'd seen "Tammy and the T-Rex" when it came out twenty-five years ago, rated PG-13 and the first feature for the two cast members who would go on to bigger things, I'd have slagged it pretty mercilessly, calling it misguided at best, and I almost certainly wouldn't have dropped eleven bucks to see the restored, gory version. But here we are, with me kind of admiring its no-budget insanity and preferring its honest camp to the knowing irony of its spiritual successors.

It starts in conventional-enough territory, with handsome football star Michael (Paul Walker) wanting to go out with pretty cheerleader Tammy (Denise Richards), but she won't because she's afraid of her possessive ex Billy (George Pilgrim) and his gang of reprobates attacking anyone who comes near her. It turns out to be a justified fear, and when Billy lands in a coma, he becomes of interest to Dr. Wachenstein (Terry Kiser), who has built a robotic Tyrannosaurus Rex and aims to use a human brain as a control unit rather than the bulky computer system, but decides to knock off early with his busty assistant Helga (Ellen Dubin) before actually lobotomizing Mike's brain. When the sedative wears off before they return, Michael has revenge on his mind, while Tammy enlists her friend Byron (Theo Forsett) in finding her boyfriend a new body.

This is a completely ridiculous movie built around having access to an animatronic dinosaur but not a whole lot of time to write a script, and it shows. Aside from the less-than-inspired things that come out of people's mouths, there are two or three separate points where the action turns on someone fainting, and when you've got three "you're not going to believe this, but it was a dinosaur" bits back-to-back, you need to vary them or build to something in a way that writer/director Steward Raffill doesn't manage. The fact that Tammy and Byron don't seem particularly alarmed by Michael in any way after his murderous rampage is only salvaged by Denise Richards's performance, believe it or not. This movie was destined to be silly but it didn't necessarily have to be this dumb.

Given the crazy constraints that this was made under, it winds up playing like one of those 48-hour film project shorts, and that kind of works more often than not. There are a number of shots that the filmmakers shouldn't have even tried, such as every time they try to animate a full-body shot of the dinosaur walking, but when Wachenstein uses a power tool that clearly isn't the sort of bone saw that an actual surgeon would use, it feels like improvisation that they're selling rather than something that requires a meta-comment to be tossed at the audience. The same goes for the often-goofy slapstick that often involves a puppet hand reaching far further than the t-rex bot's could; the way Raffill and his crew shoot and cut this says that they know the joke doesn't make sense, but it works.

And then there's the gore, which was apparently entirely cut for the film's initial release in most territories but is restored here thanks to that apparently not being the case in Singapore (which is why the print used for this re-release shows the title as "Tanny and the Teenage T-Rex"). Aside from Raffill's team being better at blood, guts, and brains than more or less anything else, those bits serve as punctuation to a gag, especially in the middle section, to the point where a viewer must have wondered why these people bothered making a movie about a mechanical t-rex biting off people's heads if they were never going to show it biting off someone's head. Heck, if it had been released in this cut back in 1994, it would have been more clear that its occasional Jurassic Park references included not just the movie but the book, where Michael Crichton spent a few eyebrow-raising paragraphs on people feeling their intestines in their hands.

Looking at the other half of the title, it's kind of a shame that Denise Richards didn't have many chances to make more movies like this. Not so much cheap horror, but comedies where she could be unapologetically sexy and enthusiastic. That sort of farce had fallen out of favor by the time her career started, and looking at her in this movie, it's not necessarily hard to imagine her having a career akin to Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot, or Goldie Hawn if she'd been able to build some chops playing guileless sexpots like Tammy, who may not be any sort of secret genius but is energetic and determined and surprisingly capable of carrying the movie on her back with the confidence necessary to pull off some really silly costumes. On a similar note, give some respect to Ellen Dubin whose Helga probably has to pull off more action than anyone else despite the increasingly-extreme high heels and push-up bras in her costumes, and J. Jay Saunders for playing the sensible, sort-of-exasperated sheriff (and well-intentioned father) amid the rest of the insanity. The easy charm Paul Walker eventually developed during the Fast & Furious series still seems kind of forced here, but he does get one of the movie's biggest laughs early on.

Make no mistake, "Tammy and the T-Rex" is a sloppy, tacky mess of a cult curiosity rather than any kind of actual good movie, but it's likely a better movie for the gore and a better cult object for how its two biggest before-they-were-stars cast members have either died or seen their peak pass, making it part of a more complete story. It's fun to watch with a disbelieving crowd, and what more can you ask of a quickly-made cheapie 25 years on?

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originally posted: 10/22/19 01:10:01
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  DVD: 21-Dec-1994



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