COWBOYS VS. DINOSAURS
The disappointment that soon sets in is that Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs is not a Western but is set contemporary. This waters down much of the appeal that the idea suggests upfront ie. there is less interest in modern guys wandering around in cowboy hats, calling everybody maam and driving pick-up trucks than there is of gunslingers, wild frontiersmen and Injuns on horses encountering elements of the fantastique. Not to mention that one has to grate their teeth through a series of country-and-western songs on the soundtrack. You kind of hoped we would get something as visually magnificent as the scenes of cowboys roping dinosaurs in The Valley of Gwangi or even akin to the cowboys up against a giant ape that we had in Mighty Joe Young (1949). We do in a couple of scenes where Rib Hilis goes into action on horseback but there is just not the same frisson there or in other scenes watching someone shooting at a pursuing T-Rex from the back of a speeding pick-up.
What must be said though is that the human drama passes with a conviction and seriousness, while there is the believable feel of people going about their lives in a small Montana town. Rib Hillis makes a surprisingly solid and convincing lead he seems to slide into the role of modern cowboy in jeans, boots and hat as though he was born to it. The only recognisable names present are a workaholic Eric Roberts in a forgettable role as Rib Hilliss drunken father and Vernon Wells, who has been steadily padding a B movie resume ever since Mad Max 2 (1981), as the mercenary-minded mine owner. There is also Sara Malakul Lane, who has appeared in a lot of low-budgeted films in recent years, straining her limited range in trying to play a scientist and act authoritative.
The film slings together a good number of familiar plot devices for this genre the ruthless and recklessly determined business owner; the cover-up and efforts made to minimise the threat by the town officials; the hero returned to town because of the girl and his Unfinished Business that caused him to lose his nerve. That said, the film enlivens these and makes the show come together reasonably well moreover, without any need to throw in constant genre references or humour. The dinosaur effects vary between surprisingly good and the occasionally ropy, while those that come during the invasion of the town are the best the film has to offer. It certainly emerges better than the throwaway B-movie one expected going in. The only quibble is the same that one has with both Evolution (2001) and Piranha (2010) and that is how does an entire biosphere manage to exist in a single underground cave, which would be required to house species that stayed alive for millions of years and multiple generations, not to mention the need for an entire food chain for them to feed on? The amount of bones left by even a single one of the species over this period of time would have filled the cave several hundred times over.
Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs was the third film for Ari Novak who had previously made two non-genre efforts. Screenwriter/co-producer Anthony Fankhauser had produced a great many films for The Asylum, as well as directed 2012: Supernova (2009), Gacy House (2010), Shadow People (2011) and Jurassic Attack (2013).