One year after the release of Jurassic Park, a baby-faced Paul Walker & a teenage Denise Richards starred in a sci-fi horror rom-com about a remote-controlled animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex. Tammy and the T-Rex is a work of inane beauty, a straight-to-VHS gem for schlock junkies & 90s culture fetishists to drool over. It’s technically, objectively, and even sometimes morally a horrendous film with no redeeming value as a work of art. On the other hand, it’s far more fun than it has any right to be, especially when its Looney Tunes logic takes over & the film accepts itself as the dumb, rudderless trash that it is.
Denise Richards plays a teenager cheerleader in the middle of a violent (especially for high school) love triangle. At one end, you have the brutish punk ex-boyfriend (complete with leather jacket & convertible) who refuses to let go of a dead relationship. At the other end stands a naive virgin of a goofball jock (played by future Fast & Furious star Paul Walker) who’s willing to risk life & limb to get under Richards’ cheerleader uniform. The brawls between the suitors are quite vicious. They kick each other in the head, orchestrate drive-by baseball bat beatings, take vice grips on each other’s genitals (“What we have here is an old-fashioned testicular stand-off”), and just generally aim to maim & kill. This escalates to Walker’s empty-headed jock being thrown into a lion & jaguar exhibit at the city zoo, a trauma that leaves him comatose, then “dead”, and then, once interfered with by an over-acted Dr. Frankenstein mad scientist archetype . . . transplanted into the “mind” of an animatronic T-Rex.
Of course, Tammy and the T-Rex really kicks into high gear once the dinosaur hijinks ensue. Continuing the surprise viciousness of the first act’s boyfights, the animatronic dino actually murders people. He crushes heads, flattens bodies out into bloody Bugs Bunny pancakes, tears teens open with his gigantic talons, etc. It’s treated as a lighthearted rampage, but it’s pretty brutal. The killings are fun & all, but what really makes Tammy and the T-Rex special are the dino jock’s more human activities. Watching his little dino arms lovingly stroke the cheek of his lifeless human body & operate a payphone is genuinely belly-laugh hilarious, as is the scene where he attends his own funeral, crying gigantic dino tears & the one where he proves who he truly is to his cheerleader girlfriend by playing charades & eating flowers. The best part is that the cheerleader decides to stick with her dino beau, riding him like a horse & helping him pick out potential new bodies in a morbid bit of window shopping at the morgue. Even when the dino jock is (spoiler alert) cruelly gunned down by the police, his cheerleader sweetheart keeps their love alive by storing his brain in a jar & feeding him strip teases & whiskey as sustenance.
Tammy and the T-Rex is a goofy mess, but it’s an enjoyable mess. Directed by Stewart Raffill, the buffoon behind Mac & Me and The Ice Pirates, the film has a decent schlock pedigree despite having essentially no traction as a cult classic. It can waver a bit in the details, especially in the depiction of the cheerleader’s gay bestie, who alternates from delightfully sassy to homophobic parody from scene to scene. For the most part, though, it’s a delightfully eccentric slice of forgotten schlock. If nothing else, Denise Richards’ wardrobe is 90s fashion-blogging Tumblr ready & the idea of a “party animal” teen dinosaur is goofy enough to carry the film on its own. There are surely some cult followings that have been built on less.