7 April 2002 | jhclues
A Unique, Epic Adventure
Since the release of this film in 1984, it has achieved bona fide cult status, and with good reason; for it is, without question, one of the most unique offerings in the universe of cinematic science fiction. chock-full of quirky, memorable characters and scenes, `The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension,' directed by W.D. Richter, is laced with clever dialogue, action, adventure and surprises. And where else are you ever going to find a main character who is a scientist, brain surgeon and rock n' roll star all rolled up into one?
After years of research, Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller) and his colleague, Professor Hikita (Robert Ito), have successfully developed an `overthruster,' a device that has allowed Buckaroo to pass through solid matter-- a mountain, in fact-- driving through it at high speed in his specially designed and equipped car. But when his achievement hits the news, it captures the attention of the mad Dr. Emilio Lizardo (John Lithgow), who catches the story on television from his room in the insane asylum, where he has been a resident for many years, ever since his own attempt at developing an overthruster failed.
But though Lizardo's trial run with the overthruster failed, it did put him in contact with alien beings from another realm, one of whom-- Lord John Whorfin-- has since that encounter inhabited Lizardo's mind and body. They are Red Lectroids from Planet 10 by way of the 8th dimension, stranded on earth (in human form) and awaiting the development of the overthruster, which will enable them to return home. These are dangerous and resourceful beings, and they are about to take Buckaroo Banzai-- currently on tour with his band, The Hong Kong Cavaliers-- by surprise. And soon, all that will stand between the Red Lectroids and the destruction of the earth, will be Buckaroo, his band and some help from his loyal followers, the `Blue Blazer Regulars.'
Working from the highly imaginative, clever and detailed screenplay by Earl Mac Rauch, Richter has fashioned and delivered a colorful and exciting adventure filled with subtle humor, the unexpected and an array of outrageous characters, from Whorfin and the Lectroids (all of whom have the first name `John'), to Buckaroo's cohorts like `Perfect Tommy (Lewis Smith)' and New Jersey (Jeff Goldblum), to the alluring, mysterious woman Buckaroo encounters, Penny Priddy (Ellen Barkin). It's an unconventional, yet readily accessible film that Richter has packed with interesting asides, lines and situations, all of which drive the story forward and keep you guessing as to what could possibly happen next. He throws so much at you, in fact, that it's impossible to catch it all the first time through; but it's a movie that lends itself to repeated viewings, because it's exactly what this kind of film is supposed to be: Pure entertainment from start to finish.
Peter Weller is perfectly cast as Buckaroo, and he successfully captures all of the elements that make his character the ultimate Renaissance Man of the immediate future. With this performance, Weller becomes the personification of the genius, adventurer and master-of-all-things; it's the definitive portrayal of a unique individual, quite unlike any ever presented on the silver screen before. Weller's Buckaroo is intelligent and self-assured-- watching him you get the feeling there's always something going on in his head, and always a step ahead of the next guy-- and it's his ability to convey the complexities of the character that makes him believable, and his incredible exploits seem credible. Simply put, Weller has taken a comic book character and made him real, and it makes the film work.
As Lizardo/Whorfin, John Lithgow takes it magnificently over the top with a character that is something of a precursor to his High Commander Dick Solomon on TV's `3rd Rock from the Sun.' And watching this guy in action is a real kick. He's larger than life, wildly animated and extroverted, while affecting an accent that's a veritable smorgasbord of dialect. He lumbers along like a mutated Quasimodo, and when he gives a speech to his fellow Red Lectroids about going `home,' it's one of the most hilarious scenes you're ever going to see anywhere. There's definitely a method to Lithgow's madness, and it's a terrific performance.
Christopher Lloyd also turns in a winning performance as another of the Red Lectroids, `John Bigboote,' and his exchanges with Lithgow are a riot (especially when Lizardo insists on calling him `Big-Booty,' and Bigboote adamantly insists that it is pronounced `Bigboo-TAY!'). And that's just an example of the many, many finer and detailed elements Richter uses to make this film so enjoyable and successful, from consistently funny verbal exchanges to broad physical humor, all interspersed with the action and woven seamlessly into the story.
The additional supporting cast includes Rosalind Cash (John Emdall), Pepe Serna (Reno Nevada), Matt Clark (McKinley), Clancy Brown (Rawhide), Carl Lumbly (John Parker), Vincent Schiavelli (John O'Connor), Dan Hedaya (John Gomez), Bill Henderson (Casper), Damon Hines (Scooter), Billy Vera (Pinky Carruthers), Ronald Lacey (President Widmark) and William Traylor (General Catburd). A film that will take you on a wild ride and into regions beyond the known, `The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension' is that most rare treasure among cinematic discoveries: A truly unique film. It's enthralling and entertaining, and will keep you laughing and involved no matter how many times you see it. And it's filled with great lines you'll be able to quote endlessly and use for any occasion. Or, as Buckaroo himself would say, `No matter where you go, there you are...' It's the magic of the movies. I rate this one 9/10.