WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!
You know, I’m just about “dinosaured” out. I saw JURASSIC WORLD twice this month, and have been on a steady diet of prehistoric cinema at home, watching such films as KUNG FURY (featuring Triceracop!), LEGEND OF DINOSAURS & MONSTER BIRDS, PLANET OF THE DINOSAURS, and THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK. With June 2015 coming to a close, I felt obligated to at least tackle one more dinosaur flick before the month was over.
While agonizing over several titles, I remembered that I was sent a screener for a new film entitled COWBOYS VS. DINOSAURS! The title caused me to wax nostalgic about the only other two “dino-Westerns” in existence (namely THE BEAST OF HOLLOW MOUNTAIN and THE VALLEY OF GWANGI), so I decided to give it a whirl. In retrospect, I think I should have went with my gut instinct and ended my dino-cinema binge with some classic Harryhausen.
Ari Novak’s COWBOYS VS. DINOSAURS starts out promisingly enough. Miners digging for a rare element called Iridium, dynamite their way into a huge underground cavern. Several men are immediately attacked by reptilian predators, and in a panic, their boss Quaid (Kelcey Watson from POSEIDON REX and JURASSIC CITY) blows up the cavern entrance. His employers are none too happy and proceed with plans to reopen the mine.
Quaid in the meantime discovers that one dinosaur (a strain of Velociraptor) escaped and is on a killing spree. He ventures out on his own to kill it and bring it’s corpse back as proof, because everyone thinks he’s suffering a mental breakdown. It’s about this time in the movie where the dinosaurs take a backseat to a love triangle between a young waitress named Sky, the a-hole sheriff she’s dating, and her ex-boyfriend Val (played by Rib Hillis), whose shoulder (and spirit) were broken during a rodeo accident. (Actual plot.)
The bulk of the movie revolves around Val trying to reunite with his lost love, while constantly butting heads with her new beau. Hell, he even manages to have a nice heart to heart with his drunken dad (Eric Roberts?!) while they share a prison cell earlier in the movie. It’s a cowpoke-themed Lifetime Movie! Eventually an army of carnivorous Raptors, a T-Rex, and a Triceratops descend upon the nearby town after the evil mining corporation, led by a gent named Marcus (Vernon Wells?! Holy crap!), blows open the cavern again.
With all hell breaking loose, it’s up to Val to conquer his fears, man up, and save his hometown (and woman) from the small army of prehistoric flesheaters! Can he do it?!
COWBOYS VS. DINOSAURS feels like someone had scripted a drama about a down-on-his-luck cowboy coming home to make amends and rebuild his life. Then somebody else took said script and said, “Oh hey, JURASSIC WORLD is coming out this Summer, so let’s put some dinosaurs in this!” But not just any dinosaurs: Acid-spitting, methane gas-filled murder-saurs, that explode when set aflame. The end result is a pair of converging storylines that just don’t mesh together at all, and the results are sometimes (unintentionally) hilarious.
The cast is a mixed bag, with Rib Hillis (Val) attempting to do his best Clint Eastwood impression while being eclipsed by Eric Roberts in a cameo role. In fact, both Roberts and fellow acting vet Vernon Wells (best known as “Wez” in THE ROAD WARRIOR and “Bennett” in COMMANDO) both kind of overshadow the other cast members because they are far better at their craft. Their presence here definitely raises the bar for the proceedings and it’s kind of a shame they didn’t have larger roles.
The effects in the film were all done with cheap CGI, including the dinosaurs, explosions, blood splatters, and even the muzzle flashes on the guns. Some of it works, but a lot of it is pretty laughable. Most of the Raptor attacks prove to be hilariously awkward because the effects were designed to fit what was already shot, rather than the other way around. It doesn’t seem like many of the dino-attacks were very well choreographed; a little extra planning could have gone a long way here.
Oddly enough, the largest shortcoming of COWBOYS VS. DINOSAURS is that it barely lives up to its title. There are cowboys (or at least, men in cowboy hats and boots) and there are dinosaurs, but there’s never really a climactic struggle between the two factions. The closest thing we get to some cowboy on dinosaur action are the few moments where someone on horseback uses a lariat to lasso a Raptor and shoot it.
The poster for the movie features a cowboy riding on the back of a T-Rex, so you’d expect that to happen at some point in the film, correct? Well it doesn’t. Instead, our hero leaps from his horse onto the back of a Triceratops, while being chased by the Tyrannosaurus. I saw this and thought “Oh cool, Val’s gonna reign it in, spin the ‘Trike’ around, and then charge it at the T-Rex!” Nope! Instead he drives the three-horned herbivore off a cliff, which results in the T-Rex doing the same! (Stupid dinosaurs! No wonder they went extinct!)
COWBOYS VS. DINOSAURS is not the bad dinosaur movie we deserve, but it is almost the one we need. What makes it appealing is that it seems like the filmmakers were earnestly trying to make something good, and failed. That’s the cornerstone of a good, bad movie. (Which is something the folks cranking out those SyFy Original Pictures need to figure out.) However, even if you have budget limitations, you should live up the promise of your film’s title, first and foremost.
Though I did have a some fun with COWBOYS VS. DINOSAURS, I could not look past this film’s inability to deliver the goods. In the future, if I want to see dinosaurs and cowboys interacting, I’ll walk the safe path into THE VALLEY OF GWANGI with my ole pal James Franciscus.
My apologies to Ari Novak and company, but I can’t see myself giving this attempted “Dino-Western” anything more than: