Tammy and the T-Rex

3 out of 5

Directed by: Stewart Raffill

I’m not quite sure the last time I’ve seen a movie so willfully dumb as Tammy and the T-Rex, but knowing that it comes from the same writer / director as Ice Pirates, a light bulb of “ah, that makes sense” acknowledgement dimly flickers on a cheap set somewheres. While that movie is 80s adventure dumb, and thus comes with some high fantasy / sci-fi plotting that gives its dad joke-vibe a kooky sandbox in which to situate itself, Tammy – even right down to that name – is 90s dumb, of an era with Pauly Shore and Beavis and Butthead echoing around; we make dad jokes with a funny voice while looking at the camera and waggling our eyebrows and, like, just wait for the laughter.

That doesn’t mean art can’t be produced in that environment – B & B being a good example of how dumb can be perverted into smart – but just underlining that it’s a particular feeling, and Tammy and the T-Rex almost bumps itself over the line into classic cult territory by embodying that feeling with gusto. Writer / director Stewart Raffill was operating in respectable seat-of-the-pants territory here, taking the “opportunity” of being able to use an animatronic dinosaur to turnaround a quick script (1 week) and a cheap and quick shoot, and then deciding to take the swerve into uber-gore with plenty of beheadings and gibs-flinging. If not for the need to stretch this out to 90 minutes – like half the movie is non-T-Rex, non-gore setup, told semi-legitimately – it would be damn near perfect, and I suspect it gets closer to that potential the more often you watch it.

A movie in which a mad scientist type (Terry Kiser) has a plan to connect a human brain to a robot dinosaur in order to achieve, er, immortality already sounds worth a watch; toss in a teenage Denise Richards (as Tammy) and Paul Walker (as Michael) as the ill-fated lovers who become further ill-fated when they have to find one another again once Walker is dinosaur-ized as a proof-of-concept for the immortality gambit… further cinematic gold. While the lead in to this isn’t particularly deep, it has an odd amount of context and shot-straight stupidity, with Tammy’s ex-boyfriend getting in to a scrap with Michael, and eventually dumping the latter’s beaten-up body onto an animal preserve, where it’s mauled by a lion, and then apparently perfect fodder for the scientist’s experiment. But once we’re past that (…45 minutes!), there’s no pretending like this is a real movie: said scientist talks in a German accent, comes complete with a set of minions (an Igor-type, a musclehead, and a spandex-clad female hanger-on) and has no compunctions over really bad puns related to the body he defiles for its brain. The brain is installed, and we’re off – really cheap, over-the-top gore gags; hilarious shots of puppeted dinosaur hands doing things like dialing a payphone and dusting off a comrade’s collar; and once Tammy realizes Michael’s brain is in that T-Rex body, they pick right up with the snuggling and smooching as before. This is the kind of movie in which, during a car chase, someone tells Tammy to “hold on to your boobs,” and she does exactly that.

Of course, being the 90s, it’s also a movie featuring a stereotyped fay gay character (Theo Forsett), during a time when we conflated male homosexuality with crossdressing and transgenderism and it was a-okay to make non-stop jokes along those lines; and it also just so happens that the only two non-white characters in the movie are related. (Of course, their last name is “Black,” so maybe there’s some attempt at self awareness there.)

This stuff is delivered with the same kind of lazy, first-draft mentality as everything else, so it’s not especially mean-spirited, but it’s distracting nonetheless, and obviously not being mean-spirited (or saying “that’s just how it was then”) doesn’t excuse it from being potentially more bothersome.

On the whole, though, I have a hard time hating on a movie that’s so happy to be dumb; that exists because Raffill had a camera and a puppet and a month of time and money. The gore – re-added by Vinegar Syndrome years after the film’s initial release had been quite stripped down – is PG-tame stuff by today’s standards, but it’s still funny in how faux grisly it is. While Tammy and the T-Rex is a few rewatches away from overcoming its pacing and tone-cringey flaws and parading past the cult greatness goalposts, it’s certainly stupidly enjoyable enough to watch a second time as you subject some other newbie to it, smiling in enjoyment as they shake their had at the movie’s dedicated dumbness, and then you keep passing the favor on again and again until it’s your favorite midnight flick.