November 28, 2010 by abbyo
In this week’s Plan 9 Cinema post, I’m taking a bit of a detour. I’m reviewing “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension.” It’s a detour in the sense that it’s not necessarily a bad movie (it’s debatable). Instead, “Buckaroo Banzai” is a completely weird case, so odd that it’s earned a place in the Plan 9 arena. The plot is weird, the cast is weird, and the writing is weird. Sometimes it’s endearingly so, other times, it’s annoying. This is a movie that can’t decide whether it wants to be taken seriously, or just parody itself. It’s this indecision that keeps the audience from really connecting to the movie, and lets them just watch, confused, as bizarre and unexplained scenes unfold, one after another.
Our hero is the titular Buckaroo Banzai, a multi-talented genius. He’s a medical doctor, a scientist and musician who likes to keep things lively, having musical and scientific adventures with his band, a group of similarly creative types called the Hong Kong Cavaliers. One day, during an experiment involving a rocket-powered car, Buckaroo breaks through a dimensional plane and passes through a mountain. Once he busts through the other side, he discovers a strange organism stuck to the bottom of his car. At the same time, Buckaroo’s nemesis, Dr. Emilio Lazardo, hears of Buckaroo’s scientific breakthrough, and breaks out of a mental hospital with the help of some alien buddies (Red Lectroids, from that same eighth dimension) so he can use Buckaroo’s work for his own evil plans. There are also some Black Lectroids, good guys, bent on destroying the Red Lectroids, and a woman named Penny Priddy who’s the long-lost twin of Buckaroo’s dead wife. Trust me, it doesn’t make much more sense when you watch it.
But, bless its freaky little heart, I kind of love this movie despite the fact that the plot holds together worse than a house made of Popsicle sticks and hot glue. Part of this stems from the wonderfully 80s soundtrack and aesthetic, a sort of wacked-out mashup of cowboys and samurai. Part of it comes from the bizarre writing, which in some scenes feels like a good, solid sci-fi adventure, and in others feels like a Captain Underpants book. The dialog around Buckaroo and the Cavaliers is generally pretty fun, believable stuff, endearing enough to make you really want to like the movie. But the scenes involving anyone other than our heroes makes you shake your head in wonderment, like the one below:
Plus, every once in a while, you get awesome images like this:
Or moments like this one, typically bizarre, funny, and totally unexplained:
But the aspect of “Buckaroo Banzai” that gives the movie real credibility in my book is the cast. While the concept of a band of traveling scientist-musicians is pretty great in itself, the fact that Buckaroo and the Cavaliers are played by some of the coolest actors around just drives that point home all the more. The perpetually awesome Peter Weller plays Buckaroo, and his band includes Jeff Goldblum and “That Guy” honoree Clancy Brown. Who wouldn’t want to tour the world with those guys? The rest of the cast is filled out with actors like Christopher Lloyd, Vincent Schiavelli and a scenery-gnawing John Lithgow as Emilio Lazardo. If for no other reason, the movie is fun to watch just for the sake of recognizing the cast, some of them in the early stages of their careers (it was Brown’s second movie role). Oh yeah, Yakov Smirnoff is also here, as a U.S. National Security Advisor.
On the whole, “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension” is a brilliantly imaginative piece of work, and looks like it was probably a lot of fun to make. But what’s surprising to me is that something this loose and poorly communicated ever got green-lit to begin with. As an audience member, you feel like there’s a really good movie in there somewhere, if only you could get past feeling like you’re left out of the loop. Writer Earl Mac Rauch never did much else of note after this movie, but director W.D. Richter was involved with a number of other projects, including “Big Trouble in Little China,” which, if you’re familiar with John Carpenter’s 1986 movie, makes a lot of sense. In any case, “Buckaroo Banzai” is a movie that has every reason to be truly awful. But because it’s so uniquely strange, and tries so hard to please, it’s kind of lovable.