Sabretooth (2002)

Yet another made-for-TV Sci Fi Channel original movie. With terrible scripts, low rent CG, and low budgets consisting of pocket change and a used gum wrapper, these movies are perhaps more famous for being rip offs of better movie than they are for the list of B-list, C-list, and God only knows what-list levels of actors and celebrities that usually star in them…as well as John Rhys-Davies, whom I’m convinced does these things for fun because he enjoys the nerdy fun they bring him. He probably doesn’t have to act after the Lord of the Rings film series, so now he hangs out doing movies like Dragon Storm and Anacondas: Trail of Blood for kicks. Good for him.

A scientist with no sense of ethics or morals and a really bad fake American accent creates a saber-tooth tiger from fossilized DNA and then pump it up with crazy genetic engineering growth hormones so that it gets to full size fast and needs to constantly eat. She then decides to show it off to her billionaire friend, because he likes things that will make him rich. Of course, with a simple trucker transporting it along through wannabe West Coast Deliverance territory, you know exactly what’s going to happen: it gets loose. Because of course it does. So the billionaire and the evil scientist lady bring in a professional tracker and a hot nerdy zoologist to track down the saber-tooth but only tell the tracker it’s an African lion.

Meanwhile, a bunch of dumb hikers who are training to lead even dumber kids on hikes are also out in the area. Guess who the saber-tooth intends to eat? If you said “dumb hikers” then you win a cookie. Go get it yourself, I don’t know where you live. While a couple of them are supposed to be experts, they make a lot of strange choices, like willingly walking into a cave in mountain lion territory, but hey, who am I to question this script? Once the saber-tooth notices them, they start making for easy prey.

Of course, eventually what’s left of the two groups meet up, the truth comes out that it’s a saber-tooth, and there’s a big showdown. Nearly everyone dies, and of the few survivors, only one is completely uninjured. They limp down the mountain, and I wonder how they are going to explain this all to the police, especially considering one of them has a gunshot wound to the shoulder, so the cops are definitely getting involved. Have you ever seen a movie where you wondered how this was going to play out a few hours later when they’re being questioned by law enforcement in the hospital? Yeah, this is definitely one of those movies.

There are a lot of bad decisions made in this movie, but one of the few that works is when animatronics were used. Some of the close ups of the saber-tooth’s eyes and jaws were done as a shadowed puppet, and it’s a cool design. Not entirely believable, but still, it’s nice to see some practical effects in a movie that mostly favors bad CG. There are also some nasty gore effects, like a woman whose face has been ripped open, and the remains of some of the other saber-tooth victims. Did you know a saber-tooth could practically unhinge its jaw to snap down on something? How about that, I learned something! And guess how many poor campers learn this the hard way? One poor woman gets the up close treatment as the big cat snaps down on her head and drags her off into the woods, while another dude gets his eyes gouged out with the cat’s big front teeth, because why not throw some eyeball trauma in there too?

Unfortunately, the budget was saved more for special effects work that feels incredibly lackluster in comparison. The CG cat changes in size, shadows don’t look right on it, and it feels like it has absolutely no weight to it whatsoever. In one scene doing a bad job of aping Predator, the one minority character sacrifices himself to save the white people (because of course this movie does that) by knife fighting the saber-tooth. It ultimately goes as well as you can expect, but up until that point, it’s like a truly awful rendition of someone remaking the skeleton fight scene in Jason and the Argonauts. Only in that one, the fighting was much more believable; here it just looks like the actor flailed a little, and the visual effects folks moved a CG head around to show his knife bouncing off the teeth. A suggestion: if you have to knife fight a saber-tooth, maybe don’t treat it like a sword fight with its fangs.

So who would actually bother to star in a film like this? I mean, besides John Rhys-Davies. Well, our tracker is played by David Keith, a believable tough guy who acts as one of the few relatively smart folks in the movie. Other notables include Vanessa Angel, English model and actress with such a resume as the TV series Weird Science as well as roles in films such as Spies Like Us and Kingpin before eventually going the route of Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2. Considering how often she mangles her American accent here, well, maybe it was for the best. Josh Holloway of Lost fame is also one of our camper heroes, and while this is very early in his acting career, he does all right. Model Jenna Gering makes for the camper leader, while Lahmard J. Tate ends up perhaps the one camper who I really wish had survived. And then for some reason we get voice actor Phillip Glaser as an absurdly annoying nerd who huffs an inhaler and complains like it’s going out of style. I hate this script so much.

But all of this pales in comparison to the most important person here: the hot nerdy zoologist who gets pulled off into the woods to be consumed by a terrible CG kitty is Steffanie Thomas, or as she is now known, Steffanie Busey. That’s right, nearly 20 years later, the lady in the “Extinction Sucks” t-shirt would end up married to Gary Busey, and for that, I salute her. I also salute her for being a standup comic and a master hypnotist; she has a fascinating resume.

Look, Sabretooth is pretty awful for a lot of reasons, and no amount of acting chops could have saved this one. It has moments where I found it enjoyable, but I spent way more of my time groaning in frustration. Meanwhile, John Rhys-Davies spends way more of his time rolling around in his Lord of the Rings money, so to each their own.

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