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BUCKAROO BANZAI

       

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Sept. 2, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Shout! Factory has given a Blu-ray upgrade to the cult favorite ‘The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai,’ a sci-fi adventure farce that was intended to kick-start a franchise but instead bombed in theaters. Later, the film would gain quite a following on home video. I gave it a rave when it hit cinemas some 32 years ago but most movie critics panned it. My appreciation of this film became a running gag on the radio show I was doing on KSL at the time, but I always stuck up for it — and I still like it. In fact, the film’s weirdness seems tame compared to what we see today, so perhaps it was ahead of its time. Here’s my Oct. 7, 1984, Deseret News review.

Some movies are difficult to describe, but “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai,” subtitled “Across the 8th Dimension,” may be the first in my experience that is nearly impossible to describe.

The temptation is to provide you with a review consisting of only two words — “Go, enjoy.”

Surprise is certainly an important factor here, but the one thing to remember as you view this extremely bizarre, incredibly hip comedy, is to pay close attention to as much as you can. This is an extremely busy movie, with something going on all the time, and often several things at once.

Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller) is a hero for the ’80s, but not a “superhero.” He is something of an intergalactic Renaissance man — brilliant neurosurgeon, martial arts expert (he is half Japanese, half American), lead guitarist and vocalist of the heavy metal group “The Hong Kong Cavaliers,” race car record-setter (at the beginning of the film he breaks the sound barrier in a jet car), space and time traveler, and all round adventurer.

     

          Ellen Barkin, John Lithgow, 'Buckaroo Banzai'

With a loyal group of friends and allies that spans the world — his overall organization is called Team Banzai — he alternately performs in a small New Jersey nightclub and plots to save the world from the evil Lectroids, invaders from Planet 10 by way of the eighth dimension, which Bonzai cracks in his jet car with the help of his oscillation overthruster. The Lectroids are led by Dr. Lizardo (John Lithgow), who went into the eighth dimension some 20 years earlier and was turned into a crazed lunatic. They want that overthruster.

Are you with me? So Banzai and his team, with New Jersey cowboy Dr. Sidney Zwibel (Jeff Goldblum) and Penny Priddy (Ellen Barkin), who turns out to be the twin sister of Banzai’s former wife, have until sundown to defeat Lizardo and the Lectroids or the world will be destroyed.

At one point, one of Banzai’s followers says, “This is weird.” No question about that. But what makes “Buckaroo Banzai” work is its ever-prevalent sense of humor. In-jokes abound on every subject you can imagine, as the movie spoofs old movie serials, daytime soap operas, “Star Wars,” rock music, “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” America’s fascination with heroes and entertainment, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” … you name it.

When it was over, my wife observed that it looks like an American version of Monty Python, and that pretty well sums up its wacko style, ranging from slapstick to satire to irony to off-the-wall humor

     

       John LIthgow, left, Peter Weller, 'Buckaroo Banzai'

Priddy tells Banzai: “You’re like Jerry Lewis, you gave me hope to carry on.” Lizardo, writing formulas on the wall mutters popular song lyrics in his thick Italian accent. Banzai gets a space ship going with jumper cables. We learn that Orson Welles was hypnotized to claim his “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast was a hoax — it wasn’t. My favorite moment comes when Banzai tells a nightclub audience, “Remember, no matter where you go, there you are.”

Granted, some of this is so fast and furious it is incomprehensible, and with all the weird gadgetry, wild special effects and crazy subplots, it becomes a bit overwhelming at times. But it is also very funny and quite exciting.

New York stage actor Peter Weller is very good as Banzai, and Goldblum, Lloyd and Lewis Smith all have nice moments. But it is Lithgow who steals the show, as he so often does.

Rated PG for “Star Wars”-style violence and a couple of profanities, “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai” is wild, stylized fun, guaranteed to leave you a little dizzy and wildly entertained.