Monday, January 16, 2012

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984) ****

What are the things that we value in a good movie? The list includes good cinematography, good acting, a riveting, believable story, and special effects good enough to seem real and allow us to forget that we are watching a movie. How then to explain the phenomenon of Cult Classics, movies that are beloved by a vocal minority despite lacking most of those qualities?

“The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension“ (usually shortened to “Buckaroo Banzai“) is a Cult Classic in every sense of the term, sporting laughable special effects, a disjointed narrative, and over-the-top performances by unknown actors and stars alike. While loved by its adherents (myself included), the film is totally unfit for a mass audience. Show this to a normal girl on a first date, and there will not be a second date! The sad thing is that this isn’t even necessarily a “low-budget” film. To put this in perspective, the first Star Wars movie was made in 1977 for $11 million, and “Return of the Jedi” in 1982 cost roughly $33 million. Modern-day sci-fi classic “District 9” cost $30 million in 2009. These are all slick-looking, well-produced sci-fi films. “Buckaroo Banzai,” with a budget of 12 million 1983 dollars, is a complete mess. And yet, like an abused lover, I can’t help loving it.

The titular hero, Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller), is a mild-mannered polymath, a leading neurosurgeon, physicist, racecar driver, and rock star. World-famous due to a series of comic books based on his exploits, Banzai has a loose, worldwide network of friends and short-wave radio operators who help him in his battles with evil. He surrounds himself, Doc Savage-style, with a small team of gun-toting Renaissance-men who also make up his rock band.

What can I say about the plot? There is one, but it is so bizarre, and the film is edited so poorly, that it takes a long time to figure out what is going on. Basically, the Earth gets caught in the middle of a fight between two alien species. The more warlike species, the Red Lectroids, are secretly exiled on earth. When Buckaroo Banzai makes news by crossing into the 8th dimension and back, the Red Lectroids decide to steal his invention and use it to get back to their home planet, where they plan to destroy the Black Lectroids. When the Black Lectroids get wind of all this, they give Buckaroo Banzai an ultimatum: Stop the Red Lectroids, or the earth will be destroyed in order to prevent their escape.

As I said, it takes a long time for that plot to come together, and meanwhile the audience is treated to a series of slapped-together scenes that don’t make much sense. They are, however, hilarious if you just relax and enjoy the ride. Peter Weller plays a great straight-man as Buckaroo Banzai, while a bunch of bizarre characters and events revolve around him. John Lithgow is delightfully manic as a scientist whose brain has been possessed by one of the Red Lectroids. Jeff Goldblum struts around in a ridiculous cowboy outfit. Christopher Lloyd plays a Red Lectroid named John Bigboote (emphasis on the last letter). Ellen Barkin sports a dreadful haircut but still manages to be sexy as hell.

Eventually, the whole thing turns into a slap-happy space-Western. Everyone in the film appears to be having a fabulous time. If you can put aside your usual expectations of a comprehensible narrative, then you’ll have a good time, too!

1 or 4 stars out of 5, depending on how you look at it.

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