As the less fortunate among you surely know by now, The SyFy Channel usually churns out its CGI mockbusters to siphon off money from the especially content-hungry in anticipation of major summer releases. While there’s no accounting for certain titles like Sharknado or Lavalantula, which have no “real” cinema counterparts to speak of, SyFy will usually pull a stunt like preempting del Toro’s kaiju love-letter Pacific Rim with its own mech suit cheapie called Atlantic Rim or riding the MCU’s Thor‘s coattails with some generic atrocity called The Almighty Thor, etc. My curiosity, then, was recently piqued while scrolling through Netflix after midnight when I noticed that SyFy had produced a film last year titled Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs. The most obvious comparison point to that title would be Jon Favreau’s better-than-its-reputation Cowboys & Aliens, but that film’s from all the way back in 2011 & Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs aired in 2015, so the timeline didn’t make much sense to me.
It wasn’t until I was a good 20 minutes or so into Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs (thanks to a complete lack of willpower) that I remembered, oh yeah, there was a CGI dinosaur movie that came out last year. It was called Jurassic World and starred one of Hollywood’s up & coming leading men and made a ridiculous amount of money all over the world, despite apparently being less memorable than a box office flop that came out five years ago. By the time I had this epiphany I was too far into Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs to bail, though, and I just sort of gave into finishing it the same way your body gives into the numbness of freezing to death when you plunge into icy waters.
Truth be told, Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs isn’t all that bad when judged by the perilously low standards of SyFy mockbusters. The characters are laughably wooden & the entire premise is just as try-hard as they come, but damn if I didn’t laugh every time some dope was eaten by a CG dino. In a world of cowboy cliches that range from fallen rodeo hero to power-hungry sheriff to country music video skanks of all genders, a CG dino is more savior than monster. The wicked creatures are released early on from their dino treasure trove inside an active mine shaft thanks to a shitty little CGI dynamite charge and are thankfully violent at every given opportunity: chomping heads, removing guts, biting people purely out of malice instead of hunger. The mine shaft works like some kind of bizarre 3D dino printer, emanating countless copies of the same generic, raptor-like dinosaur that move in quick jerks like a video game glitch and bleed explosive methane, because why not? The movie drowns in its own mediocrity when there’s no dino mayhem on display, focusing mostly on a romantically-charged rivalry between the sheriff & his rodeo cowboy nemesis that no one could possibly care about, but the plot is mostly an inconvenience at best. The dinosaurs are easily the more interesting half of the dino-cowboy equation, but the movie knows it & does its best to disperse their murderous chaos evenly throughout the production.
I was just shy of abandoning all hope on Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs when a second round of explosions happened to set loose a new, more varied batch of dinosaurs. This is when the cowboy gimmick really pays off. Our rodeo hero lassos himself a wild one & ends up riding a stegosaurus like an ornery bull. There’s even an exploding T-Rex. Where else are you going to see that? Don’t answer that. Look, the production value is essentially on par with a softcore porno, the gore is goofy but never quite gruesome, and the plot feels like one beat in a screenplay instead of a finished product. Even SyFy’s signature celebrity stunt casting is lackluster here, featuring Eric Roberts of such prestigious works as A Talking Cat?! & The Human Centipede 3. If Roberts’s IMDb page is to be believed, he appears in roughly 4,000 projects a year, so that wasn’t much of a get by any measure.
Still, I chuckled at far too many dino attacks in this film to brush it off completely. This must be how the poor people who enjoy watching Birdemic must feel. I wasn’t excited when Cowboys vs.Dinosaurs left the door open for a sequel, but I honestly would be more likely to watch that then giving Jurassic World a second look. If you want to consider that an insult to one movie instead of a compliment to the other, that’s up to you.