MOVIE REVIEW: Tyrannosaurus Azteca

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For those of you unfamiliar with The Asylum, they’re the company who makes made-for-tv movies for SyFy. They also have made direct-to-dvd/download fare that people lovingly refer to as “mockbusters.” You might have seen them on Netflix or if you still have a blockbuster. Instead of saying Transformers on the box, it’ll be Transmorphers. I like to think of it as a way to trick the elderly into renting movies almost like the actual ones in the theater. They’ve expanded into a market that’s a mix of cash-ins on movies currently in theaters and delightfully, shamefully D-grade monster flicks. They’re who brought you such genius works like Megashark Versus Giant Octopus and this summer’s social media darling, Sharknado

I’ve loved their films for years and years, even before the trailer for the aforementioned Megashark went all viral. They’re funny, cheesy, and bad B-movies often in all the right ways. Not every one of their films is as funny as Sharknado but quite a few surprisingly will give you a satisfying fix of former TV star nostalgia, CGI-exploitation (or CGIsploitation), and bad monster chills and thrills. Every two weeks, I’ll be bringing you a review of an Asylum/SyFy feature and letting you know if it’s worth your time or a complete dud.

This week, we’re starting with an oldie from back in 2007 called Tyrannosaurus Azteca that stars Dollhouse’s Dichen Lachman and Sharknado’s Ian Ziering.

Shall we?

Summary:  It’s basically Pocahontas meets Jurassic Park but you substitute in Aztec natives for Native Americans of Virginia. I’m not even kidding. Essentially, Hernan Cortes (Ian Ziering) is leading a troop of six whole men through the Mexican valleys when they come across a small, secluded tribe that’s being plagued by a rampaging Tyrannosaurus and her mate. The local shaman has been trying to keep the sacred “thunder lizards” appeased with increasingly frequent human sacrifices, complete with ripped out hearts, but they’re still being attacked. Hernan has a right hand lieutenant named Ernesto Rios (Marco Sanchez) who comes across the chief’s daughter (Dichen Lachman) in the jungle as she’s about to be raped by the high priest (who’s also the man she’s betrothed to marry but doesn’t actually love). Rios saves her not just from the shaman but also from the attack of the male Tyrannosaurus by helping the injured native princess to a hiding spot.

After they are safe, Rios and the daughter go back to the village where they are shocked to find Cortes and his men have been captured for trying (and failing) to subdue the natives. Ernesto, split off from the rest on a  scouting mission, comes in time to show the chief that he saved the princess and that no one needs to be killed. They swear to kill the male Tyrannosaurus for the good of the village and because the shaman insists their arrival has angered the beasts enough that either they must be sacrificed or kill the threat. Cortes’s men set out to do just that as Cortes, himself, is held for collateral. Rios is able to lure the make Tyrannosaurus into a pit of sharpened sticks thus killing him. However, their canon is damaged and several of their party injured.

It’s enough of  a show of good faith that the chief is happy to let them leave the next day to meet their ship. He’s even feeling enough gratitude to let the conquistadors take Father Gria (Jack McGee)—a stranded priest from a previous expedition—with them. The one condition they must follow is to leave without any gold and jade (yes jade) and tell no one of the riches they’ve found in Mexico. Cortes is a rat of the first order so he instead orders his men to wake up early, steal all golden idols and goblets at the sacrificial altar, and leave Rios and Father Gria stranded in the village.

Rios awakens to find he’s been betrayed and that, worse, the female Tyrannosaurus is out killing again. The shaman, jealous at the growing affection between Rios and the chief’s daughter (I said this was Pocahontas, right?) still insists the rampage of the final T-rex is due to the disruption of the altar and that Rios must come with him to stop the beast or be sacrificed. Rios, concerned for his beloved’s safety and a man of honor, agrees to help. They go off to get the T-rex but not before the shaman drugs his cactus wine.

Rios is weakened  on the hunt and left to die at the hands of the T-rex. However, Father Gria and the daughter come to his rescue. They’re chased by the beast who has been summoned by the shaman by blowing on a horn made from her mate’s teeth (no really). The T-Rex rushes to them from eating all of Cortes’s men. The trio are trapped for a time in a mangrove root (no really). There, Father Gria marries the princess and Rios and they consummate. Eventually the T-rex gives up.

Things deteriorate as the chief confronts the shaman over his treachery and drugging of Rios. They fight and the chief is mortally wounded but not before blessing Rios and his daughter’s marriage and declaring Rios a worthy successor to defend his people. Rios, Father Gria, and the daughter set a trap with the last of the explosive powder and muskets at the altar and are able to first defeat the priest and use his heart as a lure for the T-Rex. She comes and is killed by an explosion to her face that leaves her burned and flayed. That’s actually pretty awesome.

Finally, Rios meets Cortes down at the beach as the ship is about to arrive. In exchange for letting him live, Rios asks Cortes never to come back to this secret valley, no matter what else Spain does to Mexico. Cortes agrees and takes Father Gria with him back to Spain. Via the Father’s voiceover, we’re told that Rios and the daughter begat a huge and successful secret tribe, that (duh) Cortes conquered the Aztecs, and that he gave up his alcoholic ways (except for wine for that doesn’t count) and was even blessed by having a drink named after him:

Sangria.

The Good:

*   The CGI is hysterical —-  some people really hate the Asylum films because their million dollar or less budgets mean the CGI monsters look like they were made in MS Paint. That’s one of the biggest things I love about them! It’s not really the point. These movies were never gonna scare anyone, but give me a badly done T-Rex that looks like a reject from Jumanji’s rendering footage. These Tyrannosauri do not dissapoint and provide countless giggles for all.

*   Ian Ziering’s casting as Cortes —- Usually, I like to point out race fail in casting. Think of how there was so much  white washing in The Last Air Bender film. However, there’s nothing more amazing than Ian Ziering’s truly terrible “Spanish accent” and his wig. The other conquistadors were all of Hispanic descent or, at the least, brunets. Ziering isn’t and his terrible cheap hair is fabulous:

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This is seriously glorious!

*    I actually care about the characters —– I know that seems like film making 101. However, many Asylum films have no likable characters to root for. One that comes to mind from its sheer boringness is American Warship. Here, I really enjoy both Rios and Father Gria. Rios is an honorable, kind man and his love for the princess sweet and undemanding. It’s nice to see a person in a monster movie that I actually hope won’t get eaten. Also, Father Gria’s running drunk joke amuses me. I really enjoy him and his cactus juice affection.

*   The Ending—— we seriously now know where sangria comes from! This is win-win for all.

The Bad:

*      It suffers from the usual Asylum budget———the big thing that annoys me is that most Asylum/SyFy movies really show their limited budget when it comes time for extras scenes. There’s only seven conquistadors in the whole film. The rest are in the boat and coming back to pick them up. Similarly, there’s about five people in the village in addition to the shaman, the priest, and the princess. In theory, most have fled toward the desert to avoid the T-Rex attacks. In reality, I’m sure it’s just cheaper having no more than a dozen people in the whole film. It’s just hard to get any thrill or excitement from T-Rex carnage when it’s one person at a time with teeth marks.

*    Most of the characters still are terrible——while Rios and Father Gria can be fun and even Pocahontas the princess has her moments (I quite liked Lachman on Dollhouse), the rest are terrible. I’d say the shaman was a bad stereotype and also need to point out again how lazy “rape as trauma and dramatic plot point” is as well as damaging. However, Cortes is nothing to write home about either. Ziering’s fun to watch for his ineptness but the character is a rat and a bit of a waste of my time as he ends up basically running around in B-plot.

*    The dialogue———Oh lord, save me now! Some of the SyFy/Asylum movies can at least get traction by being set in modern day and having a few snarky pop culture zingers. This is not one of them. Since it’s essentially the bargain basement version of a period piece, the dialogue is stilted and awful. It’s dull and not even funny in the “so bad, it’s good vein.” As a result, getting through the first twenty-five minutes until “thunder lizard” carnage hits full force is a chore.
The Verdict: . While it has its issues with some bland supporting characters as well as rough pacing in the first third of the movie, Tyrannosaurus Azteca is a fun ride. The way they get rid of both dinosaurs are clever and gory enough, the cheese piled ridiculously high, and the good guys engaging enough to fully root for.

If you come across it, it’s definitely worth a look, even if it’s just for Mystery Science Theater 3000 night with friends!

For more information, feel free to visit the film’s IMDB page.

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Rating:  4.5/5 T-Rex teeth

Reviewer: Margaret Bates:

 

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