Jarv’s Schlock Vault: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension
Laugh-a while you can, monkey-boy.
I’m at a total loss where to begin with this one. Seriously, this may be one of the most bugnuts insane films ever made, and one I’ve been meaning to get my grubby little paws on for a long time. I’m completely stumped, and I don’t think that’s ever happened to me before. If I try to do a concise, professional review of this, then I’m going to completely understate the AWESOME, so I think the only way to approach this is to go as absolutely bugnuts as the film itself. This film is crazier than a bipolar weasel off his meds, and cooler than a polar bear’s nutsack. If I still handed out Chang ratings, then I’d be considering it for a maximum, and the very fact that it exists makes the world a better place.
He’s half Japanese and half American. He’s a pioneering neurosurgeon, a samurai, inventor of the ASTOUNDING rocket car, a particle physicist and a fucking Rock Star! He’s Buckaroo Banzai, and accompanied by his crew, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, he’s the man that the President calls to protect Earth from the menace of Lord John Whorfin and the Red Lectroids! Assisted by the Black Lectroids, including a hilarious Rasta dude called John (incidentally, every alien in this is called John), who are going to blow up the planet if he can’t save the day, Buckaroo Banzai is in a race against time to retrieve his
flux capacitor Oscillation Overthruster from evil Whorfin and prevent the Red Lectroids from breaking out of The Phantom Zone the 8th Dimension.
Did that make any sense at all? Nope, I don’t think so, but that’s about as close as I can get to a coherent plot synopsis. This film is, allegedly, a parody of 1930’s science fiction nonsense, but what it really is, honestly, is just a fucking hilarious ride from start to finish. The start is nigh on pitch perfect, with a brilliant dead pan sequence leading to Buckaroo (Peter Weller)piloting his ASTOUNDING rocket car that breaks the dimensional barrier allowing it to pass through solid objects (running over the odd Lectroid and picking up a brain or two) along the way. No sooner has this incredible event been televised than Dr. Lizardo (John Lithgow), revealing himself as Lord John Whorfin and busting out of the mental asylum where he’s been incarcerated since an unfortunate accident involved him getting stuck in a wall and frying his central cortex. Buckaroo, on the other hand has a gig to play, where Penny Priddy(Ellen Barkin) attempts to commit suicide and gets arrested. Buckaroo takes pity on her, because, apparently, she’s his dead wife’s long list twin sister, so he retrieves her from prison. Along the way, they pick up “New Jersey” (Jeff Goldblum) to complete the roster of Hong Kong Cavaliers, because they need a doctor. Incidentally, the other Cavaliers are Perfect Tommy (Lewis Smith), Professor Hikita (Robert Ito), Rene Nevada (Pepe Serna) and Rawhide (the Kurgan/ Sergeant Zim, Clancy Brown). All of them have mad science/ music/ whatever Skillz, and people love the Hong Kong Cavaliers almost as much as they love Buckaroo himself.
Whorfin reunites with his faithful Red Lectroids led by Christopher Lloyd’s John Bigboote, who he seems to hate. Buckaroo takes a message (which you can only see by wrapping bubble wrap around your face) from the queen of the Black Lectroids in Jamaican form about extinguishing the Earth, and the president (hilariously in traction), panics and whatnot. Whorfin kidnaps Penny, and tortures her to get Buckaroo to hand over the macguffin, but Buckaroo isn’t detered though, and breaks in to Yoyodyne Industries (more on this in a moment) where he sees Whorfin’s ship (looks like a giant flying hedgehog) about to take off. He busts on to the shuttle (looks like a much smaller flying turd), which is conveniently armed, pilots it around and blows Whorfin out of the sky. He parachutes to safety and then uses his magical powers to bring Penny back from the dead. They bone, the end.
Fuck me this film is cool. Just look at that cast- how the hell they managed to assemble them all, not to mention that scenes with Jamie Lee Curtis in them ended up on the cutting room floor, is one of life’s mysteries. Weller and Lithgow in particular put in fantastic turns as the two leads. Lithgow is hilarious, being all strange ticks, crazy cod-Italian accent and apparently modelled his performance on The Cabinet of Dr Cagliari. Brilliantly, his dialect coach was a tailor on the lot, and Lithgow got him credited for the film, which just has to be commended. Weller’s performance was, hilariously, modelled from about 10 places including Kazan, Einstein, and Adam Ant- which is strangely appropriate considering that Stuart Goddard ended up being sectioned under the Mental Health Act. All the acting, if I’m honest, is really great, Barkin, Goldblum, Lewis, Brown and Lloyd all performing far above what might otherwise be expected.
It helps, frankly, that the script is full of absolute comic gems and brilliantly funny scenes. Lithgow gets a fair chunk of the great lines, such as “Take her to the Pitt. Go, Big-booty. Use more honey”, but there’s gold shared out amongst all the cast. Weller’s dead-pan delivery of “I’ve been ionized, but I’m okay now” had me howling with laughter, and the exchange between Reno and Perfect Tommy about pictures never lying is one for the ages. Brilliantly, there are great comic sight gags all the way through the film, such as the “Declaration of War: Short Form”, or that Goldblum dresses as a cowboy. This really is an intentionally hilarious film.
Part of the reason for that is that despite the utterly insane script/ plot the actors play it completely straight. Weller’s reaction to the President calling is so run of the mill as to be genius, and Lithgow, despite temptation, never once cracks a smile. The extraordinary events of the film are taken as completely ordinary and predictable by the characters, and any event, no matter how bizarre is accepted as nothing unusual. Incidentally, a running joke that really did make me laugh was Whorfin’s inability to pronounce Bigboote’s name properly (he pronounces it Big Booty), which eventually results in Lloyd snapping and screaming “it’s BIG BOOTAY” at him. Transdimensional hijinks are one thing, but you’d better get the man’s name right, lest it be called silly.
As well as being an intentionally comic film, it’s also jammed full of references to classic and not so classic science fiction. Yoyodyne industries are the people that make the Warp Drive in Dork Trek, for example. Which is a nice touch, but easily the best reference in the film is to Orson Welles’ classic and legendary War of the Worlds. The Red Lectroids all registered at the same time for Social Security (all with the name “John”) at Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, the exact location of the Martian Invasion. The film, actually, partly bases itself on “what if Welles’ Broadcast was real”, and so this doesn’t require any esoteric knowledge to spot. Thankfully.
While great, I do have a couple of complaints about it. Firstly, over 40 minutes pass without Lithgow on screen. Goddamnit! Who made that mistake? The man is GENIUS and really raises the film to a new level. The second complaint I have is that there are only a couple of moments in the 8th Dimension, but that’s a minor quibble. My final complaint is even more nitpicky, and it’s that the closing credits mention that the next Buckaroo Banzai adventure will be coming soon and it would have been Buckaroo Banzai v the World Crime League. That this was never made is an absolute tragedy, because the formula here would have worked brilliantly as a spoof of espionage etc. Shame.
Overall, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai is a blast. Totally, droolingly insane, this film comes highly, highly recommended. I laughed solidly for the entire run time, and the film was topped off brilliantly by Buckaroo marching and being joined by the rest of the Cavaliers one by one in perfect step to dreadful synth music in the closing credits. This is a genius touch of awesomeness in a film rammed full of genius touches of awesomeness. There’s never any doubt that I’m approving this one.
Quite simply an astounding film, and I was never going to not go for a movie featuring Lithgow electrocuting his own tongue for inspiration.
Until next time,