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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

THE DINOSAUR EXPERIMENT (aka RAPTOR RANCH) -- movie review by porfle

(NOTE: I viewed a screener for this one so I can't comment on specs or bonus features on the final DVD from Uncork’d Entertainment.)

When Agent O'Reilly (Declan Joyce) suggests to his partner Agent Logan (Lorenzo Lamas) that the horrible death they're investigating in rural Texas may have been committed by drug runners, Logan responds:  "Drug runners...with six-inch teeth?  That EAT people?"

That's about the only part of THE DINOSAUR EXPERIMENT (2013) with Lorenzo Lamas in it that's anywhere near worth noting. The reason for this is that, as far as I can tell, Lamas' scenes were filmed later by another, less talented director in order to fill out the running time (the fact that two directors are credited on IMDb seems to bear this out).  And compared to the rest of the movie, those scenes really, really suck. 

But if you forget about that unfortunate part of the movie and concentrate on the rest of it, "Raptor Ranch" (the original, more fun-sounding title) is a straight-up hoot.  The last thing I was expecting from the somber box art and synopsis was a comedy, so it took me awhile to get on this movie's wacky, satirical wavelength.  Once I did, though,  everything pretty much started to click and then--whoopee!

Filmed for the SyFy Channel, it's the story of a small Texas town (which was actually filmed in Texas instead of Canada!) where mad scientist Dr. Cane (Jack Gould) is rumored to be raising some kind of exotic emus on his secluded ranch, when in fact he's raising dinosaurs. 

Abbi Whitecloud (singer Jana Mashonee in her acting debut) lost  her mother to one of them six months earlier, and is soon to be menaced by them herself during a night of flesh-rending terror.  Her boss, Billy Wayne (Cole Brown), who runs a gas station-diner where he secretly feeds his customers squirrel meat, is a fat, gloriously disgusting sexist slob who is just one of the many extremely stereotypical characters that grace this movie.  Abbi works as his waitress because she still owes him for the pickup he sold her,  and he makes her dress like a hooker (bless his heart). 

Which reminds me--one of the best things about "The Dinosaur Raptor Ranch Experiment" is simply girl-watching gorgeous Native American babe Jana Mashonee, whether dressed to thrill Billy Wayne's goggle-eyed patrons or dragging herself out of bed in her undies and doing archery on a picture of her boss (which happens to feed my girls-doing-archery fetish in a big way). 

Rapidly converging on her tiny hometown to join in the fun and get added to the raptor menu are three college kids on their way to Tahoe--nerdy Sheldon (Cody Vaughan), party animal Lucas (Donny Boaz),  and the Bluto-like Man Beast (Rowdy Arroyo). Also headed their way is a dilapidated tour bus containing washed-up funk singer Little Willie (Marcus M. Mauldin) and his ditzy backup singers Kolin (Lexy Hulme) and Josie (Kimberly Matula). 

Circumstances lead them all to Dr. Cane's ranch, where they're just in time for the big raptor breakout which is hilariously orchestrated and executed (by the good director) as well as being pretty suspenseful.  In fact, the extended chase sequence that this touches off gradually develops into a genuinely thrilling edge-of-your-seat series of close calls and narrow escapes that take the main characters from Raptor Ranch to Abbi's house (where we get to see Billy Wayne turned into raptor chow) and all the way back into town.

Lots of individual bits of business add to the comedy and excitement, some of them quite imaginative (the sex scene between Lucas and Josie in Little Willie's tour bus ends with one of the most riotously audacious visual gags I've ever seen).  Their breathless flight from the ravenous raptors just keeps getting more and more exciting as the body count among the main cast rises rapidly.

The characters, rather than growing progressively tiresome as happens in many films of this type, actually get funnier and more endearing as the action mounts, particularly Lexy Hulme's energetic performance as drug-addled Goth chick Kolin and Rowdy Arroyo as sweetly stupid Man Beast.  But all perform above and beyond the norm.

A big factor in how surprisingly good this all turned out to be is the more-than-passable level of SPFX--this would definitely rate as some of the best CGI I've seen in a SyFy Channel movie.  The full-sized animatronics aren't too shabby, either. 

Of course, there are the fakey parts, especially a bad CGI explosion during the finale and some shots where the dinosaurs aren't up to par.  But on the whole the effects are quite adequate, as are editing, camerawork, etc.  (Except, that is, for the sore-thumb sections with Lorenzo Lamas in them, which look like someone's home movies were edited into the rest of the picture.) 

Even if it had been as bad as I expected, THE DINOSAUR EXPERIMENT (I wish they'd kept the original title) would be worth watching solely for the eye-candy attributes of the delightfully hot Jana Mashonee wearing sexy clothes and doing archery.  But the fact that I expected so little and got such a surprisingly entertaining experience instead makes me like this silly little movie a lot.  It may just be a poor man's JURASSIC PARK, but then again, I'm a poor man.

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