Tuesday, August 29, 2017

#2,415. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)

Directed By: W.D. Richter

Starring: Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin

Tagline: "Expect the unexpected. He does."

Trivia: Jamie Lee Curtis played Buckaroo's mother in a flashback, but this scene was cut

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is an incredibly imaginative sci-fi / action / comedy, and it will likely take more than one viewing for all of its nuances to sink in.

Fortunately, the movie is also wildly entertaining, so seeing it again isn’t going to be a chore.

Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller), a world-class physicist / neurosurgeon who’s also a rock star and a part-time government agent, has just accomplished something nobody’s ever done before: with the help of his trusty oscillation overthruster, Buckaroo was able to pass safely through solid rock, and in the process has proven his theory that an alternate universe, complete with alien species, exists within the matter of solid objects. But Buckaroo’s “experiment” has done more than further his reputation as the most ingenious man alive; it’s drawn the attention of the Red Lectoids, a hostile alien race that intends to use the overthruster to return to their planet (due to their violent behavior and repeated attempts to extinguish fellow species the Black Lectoids, the Red Lectoids were banished to earth back in 1938, and have been hiding out in New Jersey ever since).

Even more surprising is the revelation that Dr. Emelio Lizardo (John Lithgow), a former colleague of Buckaroo’s mentor Professor Hikita (Robert Ito), has for years been under the control of the tyrannical leader of the Red Lectoids, John Whorfin. After escaping from a mental institution, Lizardo / Whorfin reconnects with his lieutenants John Bigboote (Christopher Lloyd) and John O’Connor (Vincent Schiavelli) and concocts a plan to steal the overthruster right out from under Buckaroo’s nose.

Buckaroo and his loyal compatriots Rawhide (Clancy Brown), Perfect Tommy (Lewis Smith), Reno (Pepe Serna) and Dr. Sidney Zweibel (Jeff Goldblum) join forces with John Parker (Carl Lumbly), a Black Lectoid, to keep the overthruster from falling into Lizardo’s hands. Should they fail, the Black Lectoid leader John Emdall (Rosalind Cash) will try to eliminate the Red Lectoids by ordering a nearby spaceship, hovering just above earth’s atmosphere, to destroy the entire planet!

Fortunately, Buckaroo Banzai is on the job, and not even his love affair with new girlfriend Penny Priddy (Ellen Barkin) will distract him from the mission at hand.

In an interview conducted around the time of the film’s release, star Peter Weller described his character, Buckaroo Banzai, as “A bit of Leonardo Da Vinci, Jacques Cousteau, Albert Einstein, and (rocker) Adam Ant, and an adventurer in love with the unknown”. That sums him up perfectly; in the first act alone, we see Buckaroo perform a tricky brain operation, put his oscillation overthruster to the test (successfully), and join his band, The Honk Kong Cavaliers, on-stage, singing to a packed house. And even though Weller’s understated performance makes him seem like an everyman, Buckaroo Banzai proves time and again he’s the cleverest dude alive (especially when matching wits with the insane Dr. Lizardo).

The supporting cast is also quite good. Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Sidney Zweibel, who’s given the nickname “New Jersey” when he joins Buckaroo’s team, is the newcomer to the group, and because of this his character is in the same boat as the rest of us (what he experiences over the course of the movie amazes him to no end). Best of all, though, is John Lithgow, who plays Dr. Lizardo / Whorfin as if he was a cross between Adolph Hitler and Daffy Duck, a clearly dangerous being so over-the-top that we can’t help but laugh at his antics.

In addition to its cast, the movie’s make-up and special effects remain as impressive today as they were in 1984; and there are moments that will have you laughing out loud (the exchanges between Dr. Lizardo and Christopher Lloyd’s John Bigboote that occur late in the film may be the comedy highlight of the entire movie). I also enjoyed the various pop culture references, especially how the filmmakers tied the Red Lectoid’s arrival on earth in with Orson Welles’ infamous 1938 War of the Worlds radio program.

Yet what I found really bold and exciting about The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai was the manner in which writer Earl Mac Rauch and director W.D. Richter structured its story, building an entire mythology around their lead character and his exploits, then tossing us head-first into the mix, providing backstory only as the movie progressed and challenging us to accept this bizarre world on its own terms. Some may find this method a bit jarring; in its review of the film, Variety said it “violates every rule of storytelling”, while Richard Corliss of Time (who enjoyed the movie) called it “a state-of-the-art spaceship flying at the speed of light without narrative coordinates”. Admittedly, there were moments when I, too, was scratching my head, trying to make sense of it all.

The film’s unusual approach to its story is probably best exemplified in the relationship that develops between Buckaroo and Penny Priddy. After meeting her at the concert featuring his band The Hong Kong Cavaliers, Buckaroo goes out of his way to help Penny (who is so depressed that, at one point, she tries to take her own life). As we soon discover, Penny bears a striking resemblance to Buckaroo’s former love Peggy, which at least partially explains his attraction to her. Well, there’s a very good reason why Penny looks so much like Peggy, but this revelation comes later on, after Penny has already been accepted into the fold. So, for a while, it seemed as if this romantic subplot was unnecessarily crowbarred into the narrative, and didn’t really gel with the rest of the movie. But like other aspects of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, we come to understand this love affair and the integral part it plays in the story.

And over time the other “confusing” scenarios that make up The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the 8th Dimension will also fall into place. So, even if you’re befuddled in the early going, hang in there; your patience will be well-rewarded in the end.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Buckaroo Banzi is so cool! Your review captures the essence of the movie perfectly. Peter Weller is great as Buckaroo. His calm presence is like the eye of a hurricane that grounds the movie's chaos that is happening around him. John Lithgow is great. My favorite line in the movie is when Whorfin tells the hospital orderly,"Laugh while you can, Monkey Boy!"