In the early 16th century, Hernan Cortés led a legendary expedition to Mexico, ostensibly to foster trade. Upon meeting the reigning Aztecs, Cortés ran up against a cultural misunderstanding that lessened his power; this cultural misunderstanding caused the supposedly peaceful expedition to become a sudden and violent struggle for conquest. Though Cortés and other Spaniards would continually run into trouble from cultural misunderstandings, the Spanish conquest of Mexico would soon be complete.
Above is a vague description of Cortés’s invasion of Mexico. Boring, right?
Well, every time it says “cultural misunderstanding”, substitute “T. Rex”, and you have the plot of AZTEC REX, which insists on being rendered in all-caps, much as I will later insist on being reimbursed for the liquor I had to mainline to finish this movie.
We begin on the Central Coast of Mexico, with a voiceover. Apparently Cortés defeated the Aztec empire with a handful of extras who wander half-assedly through some exposition. We have the usual suspects: de Gullible, Crotcheto, Sensitivo (you can tell he’s sensitive because he looks like he actually bathes), Stupido, and d’Evil (whom you will recognize as evil based on his period-correct twirly moustache and pointed goatee). Based on their personalities, they’re from Conquistador Central Casting. Based on the accents, they’re from the part of Spain that’s in Wyoming.
Cut to: Aztec human sacrifice! Fun fact: this movie was made before the Mel Gibson movie. Or, after. Either way, it’s got all the women-victimizing of an episode of Law and Order: Aztec Victims Unit, and all the cultural sensitivity of an Urban Outfitters tee shirt.
The natives gleefully rip out the victim’s heart, grin menacingly, and blow a bone horn to summon something. We’re three minutes in and I’m one wise old Chinese launderer away from filing this movie with every defamation league I can get my hands on, seriously.
Oh, wait, they’re summoning a dinosaur. Okay, I’m filing with the Multi-Celled Organisms Defamation League.
Cortés’s guys struggle through the multi-syllabic parts of a theological discussion that seems to go like this: God is awesome – gold is more awesome – women “fair, firm, and willing” are awesomest. Sensitivo points out that maybe there shouldn’t be a lot of womanizing, since it’s against God’s law. The others make fun of him. D’Evil actually pokes him in the armor.
Man, I can’t wait for the T. Rex to eat every last one of these guys.
At ten minutes into the movie, I realize something that will forever change the way I see the world.
Cortés is Ian Ziering. Ian Ziering in a wig. Cortés is Ian Ziering in a wig.
And by ‘wig’ I mean ‘something Patti Lupone dropped’. And stepped on. And ran over. And Ziering, alone of all his company, keeps attempting a Spanish accent. Maybe it came with the wig; I’ll never know. (If you know, don’t tell me.)
They spy an Aztec settlement. You can tell it’s an Aztec settlement because there’s a CGI step pyramid and a bunch of muscle-y brownish dudes in loincloths and feathers. A two-second Wikipedia fact-check points out that men also wore capes to protect themselves from the elements. They don’t add, “And from all the T. Rexes wandering around”, but it’s understood.
Cortés, unimpressed with this display of manflesh, gets down to business and tells Sensitivo: “Position the others.”
All six others.
Yeah, the Aztecs trembled before the mighty hordes of Spaniards
Meanwhile, the Aztec princess begs her father not to force her to marry some guy who is clearly a crazypants. (You can tell because his hair’s in a Debbie Gibson ponytail.)
She’s probably also arguing to wear the blouse and skirt of her people instead of her Sheena bikini, but we’re too far away for the closed-captioning to pick it up.
Her father is deaf to her cries; maybe he doesn’t feel any pangs of fatherhood because he knows they can’t possibly be related, since he’s king of the Aztecs and she’s Tibetan/Australian.
Overcome with the results of this high-tech paternity test, the spunky princess makes a run for it into the deepest woods. Bright gal. She’s followed by two Spanish dudes–the aged Crotcheto and the twentieth-century Sensitivo; in the context of this movie this means an entire battalion of Spaniards is chasing her.
Princess doesn’t make it very far before Crazypants and an assistant chase her down and get to rapin’ — oh, excellent, Sci-Fi, way to foster nuanced portrayals of people of color! Heart-munching rapists. Meanwhile, Cortés’s men check out the rape from a distance as they discuss how many people are probably hiding out in the village she was heading for. Way to have priorities.
The T. Rex attacks. (Please note that from now on, the only character I’m rooting for is Rex.) It chases and kills Assistant Rapist, just misses on Crazypants (dammit), and then is thwarted from eating Sensitivo and the Princess when they hide under a log, which apparently stymies a creature with jaws like a steel trap.
Back at the Aztec settlement, Cortés attacks, and his four men are met with equal numbers! Oh god, the humanity! Half a dozen lives might be lost in this massacre!
Instead of getting right to the fighting (probably because the budget didn’t allow for blanks in the guns), Cortés tries to do the world’s most condescending show and tell — “These are crossbows“, he smarms — which ends in all of his men being taken out with poison darts. Yay! Sadly, they’re not fatal. More sadly, Cortés is still alive, which means there’s still talking.
Cortés: I demand a truce! You savages don’t know what I’m saying.
…I miss the T. Rex.
Speaking of which, back in the jungle, the T. Rex is gone and the Princess wastes no time bolting from a startled Sensitivo. He goes after her because he realizes that, if he plays this right, he’ll end up being the romantic lead while Cortés is still cooling his heels with the Hawaiian Aztecs. Lucky for him, she trips on perfectly smooth ground and then, rather than just get up and keep running from the ambling Sensitivo, brandishes a random bleached femur while she shouts in English about the horrors of the conquerors. Fair point.
Too bad he totally pulls an, “I just want to know you better!” and it works. Note that because she has cleavage he never bothers to find out where she learned English. (From Friar Tuck, as it turns out. We’ll get to him.)
Awakening on the sacrificial slab (oh please oh please), Ian Ziering tries to speak from under the weight of his wig. It doesn’t work. They’ve also removed his shirt, possibly to aid in sacrifice, but more likely because Ian paid the costume people a hundred bucks so he could show off his chest.
Oops, I was wrong before. You can tell the Aztec chief and his daughter are related because they both speak Foreignish, where occasionally accenting random syllables is the same as acting!
Enter Friar Tuck, who is apparently a Spanish priest left over from the last invasion (of what, eight guys?), who argues in vain for Cortés’s life, and drops the exposition bomb that he taught all three Aztec leads how to speak Spanish, you know, just in case. Which, fine, except then he clearly taught the Chief “Dances with Wolves” Spanish, and he taught Princess Femur Northern L.A. Spanish from his DVD of Clueless.
Because Crazypants claims that Sensitivo killed Princess Femur, the Padre is thwarted — Aztec Chief demands that Cortés pay with his life. Human sacrifice! Yay! Stand back, kids; the smell of burning polyester hair is really overpowering.
Sadly, before that can happen they’re interrupted by the safe return of Princess Femur and Sensitivo; Princes Femur screams for them to stop, and they do. Screw you, Princess Femur. You’ve doomed your people, and now I have to sit through another hour of Ziering in a Raquel Welch original.
With their lives momentarily spared, Sensitivo and Cortés are presented to the Chief like he didn’t just try to carve a Tic-Tac-Toe game into Cortés’s chest. (Let’s play a game: how many mortgage payments did Ian Ziering get from this movie? I’m hoping twenty.)
Diplomacy in action:
Princess Femur: He saved my life! You ran!
Crazyface: I did not run! I tried to lure the thunder lizard away!
Man, if I had a nickel for very time a guy tried that line on me.
Let me also take a moment to point out how awkward it is to have two Spaniards (one Anglo and one Hispanic) sneering in front of a court of Aztecs who are Hawaiian or Tibetan/Asutralian arguing amongst themselves over a DINOSAUR, which just makes them look like idiots no matter what you try to do about it. If this is intelligent design propaganda, it’s working: never before have I wanted a T. Rex to come back to life and eat so many, many people.
No kidding, Chief Boob-Paint
A huge fight erupts between the T. Rex conservationists and the Dino-free progressives. You would think that watching people talk seriously about whether or not a T. Rex is offended would be funny. I promise it’s not.
Sensitivo gets it in his head to go after the T. Rex in exchange for safe passage out of the jungles of Hawaii Mexico. So, if you ever want to know how many people have to be together for the IQs to start dropping, now you know: six idiots and a wig. The chief finally agrees to let the soldiers go off and kill Rex in order to placate the gods who supposedly sent the thing to protect them in the first place (good plan!). But to ensure they don’t run off, they keep Cortés and his awful wig held hostage. If they succeed?
Cortés: My solemn oath; we will never return.
Mutiny! Naturally led by the one with the barbershop-quartet moustache. He’s ready to blow this town even though Cortés is still being held prisoner by the locals. Sensitivo doesn’t like this one bit (Honor!). And since we’re only half an hour in, the moustache is put in his place and they soldier on. By standing around and ogling the native women. Oh my lord, where is the T. Rex? I am begging.
Princess Femur takes a cue from endless Disney movies and sneaks away to follow Sensitivo. He insists she shouldn’t be there; the rest of them are too busy fiddling with their very expensive cannon prop to even notice she’s around. Just as they’re wondering how on earth to summon the T. Rex, she pulls out her horn (hey-o!) and gives a blast. As it comes CGIing across the open landscape of what looks like giant redwoods, I hope it eats every last one of them.
Industrial Light and Muck-up
Sadly, it only eats one. De Gullible, I think. Possibly Stupido. This is why everyone needs different facial hair! How can I be expected to tell expendable characters apart without facial hair?
Not that an exhaustive examination of the scene yields any information.
Turns out a T. Rex can deflect cannonballs (huh!), but they still manage to kill it. With sticks in a pit. At the forty minute mark. Why are they surprised there’s another one? And yet, when they return to the Aztec camp, everyone acts like it’s the biggest deal in the world that the T. Rex has a mate. Maybe it’s a bigger deal that the Aztecs didn’t inform you of that to start with, or that the natives can’t even decide amongst themselves whether or not the T. Rex is a good thing to have around until Ian Ziering tosses his hair and makes a decision. (White dudes sit around smirking! God, this is like Road to Bali! Where is the dinosaur that will devour everyone and end this movie?)
Eventually, both Aztecs and Spaniards agree to kill it. Or not. Something. I’m distracted by the random streaks of paint under the Chief’s man-boobs. I guess they still haven’t heard about the capes.
In a moment of repose, Cortés discusses treasure with those mutinous members of his and decide to leave in the night, taking the gold, but leaving Sensitivo and one of his friends behind — Crotcheto, maybe? I need facial hair identities, you guys! It seems like a plan.
A stupid, stupid plan.
Princess Femur, who was marching around in a string bikini up until this point, finds an enormous blanket and wanders into the woods wearing it, looking for Sensitivo. To no one’s surprise, she drops the blanket and offers him nookie. Apparently she’s naked now, though I can’t see any difference between ‘bikini’ and ‘naked’. He declines, probably realizing that if she’s willing to brandish a femur while they’re still dating, it will just graduate to sharpened shinbones when they’re married.
When Princess Femur discovers Cortés gone with gold from the temple, Sensitivo wants to go after them, but is persuaded to stay with the natives to help kill the other T-Rex, because of course they need the white man’s help killing something that hasn’t really bugged them for the last twenty million years. I’m going to say he stays mostly because there’s still half an hour left of the movie, and he hasn’t even gotten any yet.
They go after the T. Rex! Including Padre Tuck, who makes it clear that he’s only tagging along for a seat on a one-way ship home, because he can’t stand this heathen land another minute. Way to be a missionary, Padre!
Meanwhile T. Rex Two is very angry, very hungry, but oddly picky. She bites Sensitivo gently on the shoulder but tries to chew his friend in half. She comes upon one of the soldiers fleeing with Cortés (left behind by the moustache for being too slow) and bites his leg off, first, just to be sure he’s ripe. Even a T. Rex can be a foodie.
Back in the village, they prepare to go forth to try to kill the thunder-lizard (for what seems like the hundredth time). Crazypants drops some poisoned mushroom into Sensitvo’s glass of celebratory fermented-fruit drink. Why? They’re going after a T. Rex that can devour a conquistador in two CGI bites. Isn’t that just a waste of poison?
Meanwhile, on the beach, the T Rex attacks Ian Ziering and d’Evil! Yay! Wish you were here! Here being: Inside the mouth of the enormous T. Rex that loses no traction whatsoever on the soft beach sand, defying all the laws of physics as this movie has defied all laws of decency.
On the trail of the T Rex, the poisoned Sensitivo staggers and pulls out his community-theatre drunk-acting. Crazypants laughs at him, as well he should, and then rather than killing him and finishing the job, he abandons Sensitivo to go fight the Chief for leadership of the tribe. Don’t ask me why, since their tribe is about seven people, none of whom even own capes, but he’s really into the idea.
Smash cut! Crazypants challenges the Chief! Nobody insults the Chief’s boob-paint! THIS MEANS WAR. Roger Corman levels of fight choreography ensue. In the skirmish, Crazypants fatally scratches the Chief, who will take minutes, maybe hours, to recover from this owie.
Meanwhile, Padre, and Princess Femur find an extremely high Sensitivo just before the T. Rex does, and have to green-screen it away from the beast and Redwood Alley and take refuge in some leftover foliage from the set of Lost.
Do you realize what this means? It means that everyone in the movie had to get dressed up like this twice. I’m sure this has been happening the whole movie, but only with this Sheena bikini and random Ren Faire-quality shirts and robes did I take notice. That poor girl put on this bikini twice. That probably took a lot of the joy out of the Hawaiian-vacation half of filming.
While they wait out the T. Rex (who can apparently not tear through loose branches), Sensitivo proposes to Princess Femur. And worse, she says yes.
Then they abandon the Padre to go do it.
Padre: Where are you…oh! Yes. Be fruitful!
There is a T. Rex right outside. Stop getting it on! What is the matter with you?
Guys? Guys…? Look out, Locke’s behind you! …guys?
Apparently the sex clears their heads enough to form a strategy, so they haul ass to the sacrificial slab (oh please oh please) just in time to meet up with Crazypants, who’s up there…to be killed, apparently, since that’s exactly what Princess Femur does. I’d be happier for her, except I really just hope the T. Rex wipes out the population of this entire valley and we can start over with small mammals and work our way back up to people again in another 20 million years.
Princess Femur carves out Crazypants’s heart and brandishes it as bait for the T Rex. I change my mind; she can live.
The heart-bait tempts the T. Rex close enough to be blown up in a well-timed explosion by Sensitivo. Thankfully, Princess Femur teleported out of the way of the blast, and is totally fine, despite having been standing directly in front of the gunpowder only moments before.
They haul ass to the miles-long beach, dragging Padre Tuck with pinpoint accuracy right to the place where Cortés is hiding.
…with his wig.
Ian has heatstroke from the synthetic hair and breaks his promise to the Aztecs. He tosses every last lock and vows to return with greater armies — armies of ten, twelve, lo, a baker’s dozen of men!
Sensitivo, instead of skewering Cortés like everyone in the world is hoping he does, lets him go. I cannot imagine any reason given within the context of the movie where letting him live makes sense. History is indeed written by the winners. Winners with terrible accents.
Sensitivo and Princess Femur stand nobly and watch…something, since the movie doesn’t have the money for an actual ship. Sensitivo seems happy with his choice to obey history and let Cortés off with a warning. I like to think it was less from any sense of mercy and more because he couldn’t wait to inherit the headdress and boob-paint from the old Chief. Maybe he’ll institute some capes!
The closing voiceover assures us that in Cortés’s rampaging across Mexico, “there was one valley he did not enter.” This may or may not be historically accurate, but I think the quickest way to find out if it’s true is to replace “valley” with T. Rex.
“There was one T. Rex he did not enter.”
And so, we draw the curtain over this intelligent-design propagandic, intelligence-insulting, actingless flick that does only one thing for its viewers: reminds them they need a vacation, pronto.
Genevieve Valentine is a writer in New York; her fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Byzarium, and Quarter After Eight, and she is an occasional columnist at Defenestration. Her appetite for bad movies is insatiable, a tragedy she tracks on her blog. She is currently working on a formula to evaluate the awfulness of any given film, a scale that will be measured in Julians.