When purchasing a ticket to a movie with a title like "Valley of Bones," a viewer probably has at least a fairly general idea of what he might be getting into—likely a horror picture. And in buying a ticket to this new release, he wouldn't be wrong. At least not completely.
And that's part of the trouble: "Valley of Bones" changes gears, and genres, so often that it seemingly can't make up its mind precisely what it is—a crime thriller, an adventure, a soap opera, a western, a horror picture, or a domestic drama. At one alarming point, the movie seems to be on the cusp of becoming a musical—the heroine and the villain, having bonded over shared stories of their pathetically inadequate parenting skills, sing a bedtime duet from different sides of the screen, as in "West Side Story." It's a nice enough moment—it just belongs in a vastly different picture.
Briefly, "Valley of Bones" concerns the efforts of a disgraced paleontologist to regain her professional honor by recovering what promises to be the largest complete Tyrannosaurus skeleton ever located.
The enormous fossil was inadvertently discovered in the North Dakota badlands by a lowlife, low-level drug dealer marked for extermination by a homicidal international narcotics kingpin known as El Papa. The dealer seeks to use his share of the profits from the dig to settle his enormous debts with El Papa, and buy back his life. In the unlikely meantime, both the paleontologist and the drug dealer seek to become better parents to their alienated youngsters.
By the time the picture finally sorts out its various and diverse plot elements, it's already too late. In the end, "Valley of Bones" is sort of a half-baked, stoner version of "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," with the gold dust sought by the various characters in that 1948 classic replaced and substituted by either crack cocaine or dinosaur remains, depending on your perspective.
Worse, the filmmakers apparently know about as much about paleontology as they do about story construction. While actual fossil recovery efforts as large as this continue for years and sometimes decades, the gigantic fossilized Tyrannosaur in this picture is unearthed and crated-up within a day or two. And although one of the beast's teeth is as long as your forearm, the entire skeleton is finally loaded onto the back of a large pickup truck. Instead of practicing actual scientific paleontology, these people behave as if they're digging up the remnants of last week's barbecue.
Usually a motion picture as compelling and intelligent as "Valley of Bones" holds its gala premiere in the discount bin at Walmart. Presumably this picture made it as far as select cineplexes because the distributors noticed nothing much else going on during the first weekend of September, and decided to take a shot—a long, long shot.
Judging by the same names listed over and over in the picture's credits, "Valley of Bones" was very much a family affair—writers Dan Glaser and Steven Molony are also the picture's director and co- star, respectively, and various other members of the cast and crew also pull double- and sometimes triple-duty.
Your best option is much simpler—just stay home, save your money, and wait for a movie worth seeing. "Valley of Bones" is the kind of picture which sooner or later will find its way to the patented mockery of the new Netflix reboot of "Mystery Science Theater 3000."