Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure Running Time: 1 hr. 43 min.
Release Date: August 10th, 1984 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: W.D. Richter Actors: Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd, Lewis Smith, Rosalind Cash
uckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller) was born to an American mother and a Japanese father, grew up to become a brilliant neurosurgeon, and roamed the planet studying martial arts and particle physics. He also gathered together an eccentric entourage of gun-toting musicians/scientists known as the Hong Kong Cavaliers, who perform jazzy rock ‘n’ roll at a psychedelic club. Currently, his jet car readies for an assault on the dimension barrier (somewhere past the sound barrier), while being scrutinized by an alien ship from afar. This futuristic gibberish, an obvious rip of “Star Wars’” scrolling prologue accompanied by comparable trumpet music, along with Jeff Goldblum’s recognizable prattling jabber, sets up the premise for “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension” – a film that takes itself much too seriously.
Dr. Emilio Lizardo (John Lithgow in an incredibly bizarre, over-the-top role) is in a psychiatric ward, having gone insane and homicidal after attempting a dimension barrier jump back in 1937. Now he believes he’s Lord John Whorfin, one of the alien beings eyeing Banzai’s scientific breakthroughs. Meanwhile, at the nightclub, Buckaroo sings romantic interludes to suicidal, depressed Penny Priddy (Ellen Barkin), a woman who reminds him of his ex-wife.
Later, he joins Dr. Sidney “New Jersey” Zweidel (Jeff Goldblum), dressed in brightly colored cowboy attire, for a press conference about his boundary-pushing jet car journey, where he obtained a pulsing brain-like creature. In the middle of the event, alien invaders with grotesque, veiny, rubbery brown faces and protruding black eyes take a hostage, Professor Hikita (Robert Ito), and flee. They are the evil Red Lectroids from Planet 10 and they’re intent on stealing the oscillation overthruster, the device used to travel through solid matter via the 8th dimension. Now it’s up to Buckaroo Banzai and his band of groovy rockers to stop them.
Everyone takes the screenplay completely seriously, as if every situation is truly life or death. Suspense and anxiety attempt to drench the proceedings, which is very odd considering the extreme level of goofiness present in every aspect of the film – it should be a testament to the acting, but it’s not. Peter Weller manages to deliver most of his lines without moving his lips or changing his expression, while the costumes, romance, characters, dialogue, locations, props, and special effects are extravagant without purpose. It doesn’t enhance the science-fiction themes, nor does it create a specific sense of futurism. Stylistically, it’s a total mess of genres, tones, and designs.
“Why is there a watermelon there?” asks New Jersey, pointing to a random experimental machine. “I’ll tell you later,” replies one of the Cavaliers. That quote essentially sums up “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.” Visually extraordinary and comedic things abound, but nothing is explained or reasoned. There’s no answer as to why this not-so-futuristic setting houses so many freakily dressed people, why everyone accepts the presence of aliens and another dimension, or why the President of the United States doesn’t have access to the universally recognized scientific discoveries of Banzai.
The story is so incredibly bizarre – a mix of pulpy adventure, British-infused science-fiction zaniness, comic book character designs, dry humor, stale action/adventure shootouts, and awkward romance. The most noteworthy component is the cast, comprised of a large number of recognizable character actors, including Christopher Lloyd, Clancy Brown, Vincent Schiavelli, and Dan Hedaya, along with Weller, Lithgow, and Barkin. But the movie as a whole is actually not far removed from “Howard the Duck.” Frighteningly enough, it ends with a notice about the next adventure – “Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League” – which, fortunately, never saw the light of day as the movie bombed and the studio, Sherwood Productions, went bankrupt.
– Mike Massie