Forgotten Classics: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai

I have sat here for the last several hours, contemplating how to begin writing this review. The film I am about to tell you about is such a wonderful and strange concoction that I don’t even really know how to describe it. Keep in mind, this is the third time I have viewed it. The film I am referring to is The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the 8th Dimension.

The plot of Buckaroo Banzai is very hard to describe, but I will do my best here. Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller) is a physicist, neurosurgeon, martial arts master, secret agent and a rock star. At the beginning of the film, we see that he has just taken part in his first successful test of his new creation, an Oscillation Overthruster. This device allows its user to pass through solid matter and into the eighth dimension.

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Buckaroo Banzai

However, the success of this experiment gains the attention of Lord John Whorfin (John Lithgow), an alien who has possessed the body of a scientist named Dr. Lizardo. Whorfin is part of a species called the Lectroids from Planet 10.

The Lectroids are split into two factions, the warmongering Red Lectroids and the peaceful Black Lectroids. The Red Lectroids were banished to the 8th Dimension as punishment for their crimes, but Whorfin and some others were able to escape.

Red and Black Lectroids

Whorfin intends to steal the Oscillation Overthruster to free the Red Lectroids from the 8th Dimension and return to Planet 10 to conquer it. However, the Black Lectroids are aware of this, and intend to stop Whorfin at any cost, even destroying the Earth. So its up to Buckaroo Banzai and his team of scientists/band members/tactical assault team, The Hong Kong Cavaliers, to stop Whorfin before it is too late.

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Buckaroo Banzai and The Hong Kong Cavaliers

What you may have noticed from the above paragraphs is that there is a lot going on in this film. Believe it or not, that was merely skimming through the key story beats. There is so much more that happens in the film, but to walk you through it would take far too long.

The film’s tone can vary wildly from scene to scene, as well as viewing to viewing. The film can change from a very straight-faced adventure film, to a comedy, to a satire and even to a musical at certain points. In many films this would lead to the creation of a disjointed mess, but in this film, for some reason, it feels appropriate for the world the characters inhabit.

The script, written by Earl Mac Rauch, is also unlike anything I have ever seen. Despite the fact that the Buckaroo Banzai character has never appeared in any other medium before this, the character’s world is already firmly established. The film feels like a comic book that has been going on for some time, and we are joining a story already in progress.

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Earl Mac Rauch

This is most evident in the character of Penny Priddy (Ellen Barkin). Penny is a character that Buckaroo meets very early on. She is revealed to be the sister of his former girlfriend Peggy, who she was separated from at birth. The whole relationship between Buckaroo and Penny feels a lot like Peter Parker and Mary Jane’s after the death of Gwen Stacy.

W.D Richter, the writer of Big Trouble in Little China, directs the film and you can definitely see similarities between the two. Both clearly show a love for the action genre, but enjoy subtly poking fun at it and playing with its tropes. This approach extends to every frame of the film, which both closely mimic the style of adventure films of the time, while also approaching it from very strange directions.

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W.D. Richter

Peter Weller (Robocop) clearly had his work cut out for him in the role of Buckaroo Banzai. He needed to bring physicality to the performance, an intelligence to match, but also be able to play into the humour of the film. All of this results in Weller creating a very different kind of action hero. Buckaroo comes across as a very caring person, epitomised in a scene in which he stops a concert, because he knows someone is not happy.

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Peter Weller as Buckaroo Banzai

John Lithgow (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) gives either the best or worst performance of his career as Lord John Whorfin. Lithgow plays the character in a way that goes beyond hammy, and approaches almost vaudevillian levels of cheese. All of this creates a performance that has to be seen to be believed. However, despite what you may think of the character, it is clear that Lithgow is throwing everything and the kitchen sink into this performance.

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John Lithgow as Lord John Whorfin

Ellen Barkin gives a solid performance in the role of Penny Priddy. However, much like other aspects of the production, the film has a very strange portrayal of her relationship with Buckaroo. The film almost plays like a parody of a romance found in the average action blockbuster, but, at the same time, the relationship between Buckaroo and Penny can come across as incredibly sweet and earnest at other points.

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Ellen Barkin as Penny Priddy

The film is littered with other actors that all give performances that can only be described as incredible. These names include Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd, Clancy Brown and Carl Lumbly, all of whom are completely game for the wackiness that this film brings to the table.

Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd, Clancy Brown and Carl Lumbly

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai was a revelation for me. The fact that this film could be made at all, at any point in time in Hollywood is simply astonishing. It is such a unique snowflake of a film, and the fact that I have been unaware of it for so long baffles me.

With all of this in mind, I strongly advise you to check out Buckaroo Banzai. The film takes you to weird and wonderful places, while assuming that its audience is smart enough to not have every bit of its character’s backstories spoon-fed to them. I cannot guarantee you will like it, in fact I can guarantee that there is a solid chance some will hate it, but one thing you won’t do is forget it. Watch this film and, much like Buckaroo himself, expect the unexpected.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Trailer

Written by James Campbell

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