As a general rule, I don’t watch the “Making Of” features of the movies I review, because:
a) The movie should be able to stand alone as a discrete work without additional media required to appreciate it.
b) I’m hella lazy, y’all.
But after…experiencing the subject of this review, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the 8th Dimension, I felt that I might need to read the manual. During the “Making of” there’s a moment where director WD Richter is asked what the movie is about and responds with a deep sigh and a muttered “Oh God…”
It’s that kind of movie.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the 8th Dimension is what happens when a lot of very smart, very talented people decide to take twenty million dollars of someone else’s money and have as much fun as it is possible to have legally. This is a cult film. No, scratch that. This is a CULT film, engineered to be so from the atoms making up the film stock upward. You are either in on the joke, or you aren’t. And I have to confess, my first watch through I was very conscious of what I like to call “The Rocky Horror” effect, the sensation that you would really be enjoying the movie you are watching if you weren’t alone and stone cold sober. It’s not a “watch at home alone on a cloudy afternoon” movie. It’s a “crack open a few beers with some rowdy friends” movie. Or possibly a “watch under the influence of hallucinogens and then found a religion” movie.
What’s it about? Oh God.
I’m almost loathe to recap the plot because that means being the butt of a joke. This movie is like a naughty schoolboy who sprays graffiti across the front of the school solely so that the very serious principal has to call his parents into his office to tell them in a very serious voice that their son sprayed the world TITTYBOLLOCKS across the façade. If I recount this plot, I’m only giving it the attention it so clearly craves. Okay, so after the opening narration explains that the movie we are about to see has been declassified by the Buckaroo Banzai foundation we are told in voiceover by Rawhide (Clancy Brown) that Buckaroo Banzai was the child of a Japanese physicist and an American scientist who designed a machine called an “Oscillation Overthruster”, designed to phase through solid matter. Unfortunately, as Rawhide solemnly tells us, Buckaroo’s father was killed when the Overthruster exploded, thanks to the nefarious sabotage of “Hanoi Xan”.
Due to the emphasis Rawhide places on that name, you of course suspect that Hanoi Xan will be our villain. And already, you have fallen into this movie’s trap. Hanoi Xan doesn’t even appear for the entire run-time. That’s the joke.
This movie plays like it fell into our world from an alternate dimension, one perhaps where Superman was never published and old pulp heroes like Doc Savage and the Shadow expanded to occupy the place superheroes now take in our culture. And in that universe, Buckaroo Banzai is the biggest thing ever. The movie is full of lines that suggest that there are decades of Buckaroo Banzai stories and movies and novels and comics out there that are being referenced, when in reality it’s just this movie (and a few pieces of tie-in media that came out afterwards). It’s basically a movie about being on the outside of something nerdy with decades of continuity and trying to play catch up.
The movie proper begins in the present day (or the best they could manage in the eighties) where Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller) is about to test pilot the rebuilt Overthruster that he designed alongside his father’s old science buddy, Professor Ikita (Robert Ito). Oh, fun little story. Robert Ito was too young for this part but he wanted it so badly that he designed his own old age makeup and showed up to the audition wearing it to fool the producers.
Anyway, the test is ready to start but there’s a problem. Buckaroo hasn’t shown up. Because he’s too busy performing brain surgery. With Jeff Goldblum.
Heck, even in the making of when they’re listing the names of the characters it’s just “…and Jeff Goldblum is the surgeon”. They don’t even bother and I respect that. Anyway, Buckaroo arrives at the test site and proceeds to drive the Overthruster right through a mountain and into the 8TH DIMENSION which is a trip, man. Upon returning to our dimension, Buckaroo finds a strange, alien-orb stuck to the bottom of the Overthruster.
Meanwhile, in a mental hospital, Doctor Emilio Lizardo furiously watches the news of Buckaroo’s successful journey to the 8th dimension. Lizardo is played by John Lithgow and the single worst Italian accent ever committed to film. It’s abominable. It follows him everywhere, slithering on the ground, the Nagini to his Voldemort. It’s actually so bad it becomes good, reverses back into bad, builds up some steam, powers back through good, hangs a left and then plows straight into unbearable. And look, do I love John Lithgow? Frequently, at our Alpine hideaway, wrapped in a bearskin rug before a roaring fire. But the accent is so over the top it’s genuinely hard to understand in places and I find it really distracting. In flashback, we learn that Lizardo was a partner of Ikita’s back in the thirties and that they built an early prototype of the Overthruster which resulted in Lizardo’s head getting stuck in the 8th Dimension where he was possessed by an alien named John Whorfin (oh this is nothing, NOTHING!). Back in the present Lizardo/Whorfin overpowers the orderlies in the hospital through the sheer power of his accent and makes his escape.
So, as well as being the world’s greatest brain surgeon, test pilot and scientist, Buckaroo Banzai is also a rock star because of course he is, and is the lead singer of Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers. At a gig, Buckaroo stops in the middle of a set because he can hear a single solitary person crying in a darkened, packed club. Because this brain surgeon/test pilot/genius scientist is also the most sensitive man alive.
The person who’s crying turns out to be Penny Priddy, a young woman who’s down on her luck and who bears an uncanny resemblance to Peggy, Buckaroo’s wife and the Queen of the Netherlands who was killed on the orders of Hanoi Xan. I mean, Buckaroo refers to her as the Queen of the Netherlands. I don’t know if that was a term of endearment or if she actually was the current head of the House of Orange-Nassau, who knows, right? Who fucking knows. This movie.
Anyway, Buckaroo tries to cheer Penny up by crooning a song dedicated just for her. But Penny takes out a gun and tries to shoot herself (yeah, I’ve been to gigs like that). The gun goes off early and everyone thinks she was trying to assassinate Buckaroo, which in this world is practically deicide and Penny is dragged away to prison. Buckaroo visits her in jail, deduces that she’s the long lost twin sister of his dead wife and pays her bail. Later, Buckaroo and the Hong Kong Cavaliers hold a press conference about the recent discovery of the 8th Dimension which is attended by some quite odd men. They kidnap Ikita and in the chaos Buckaroo gets hit by a strange bolt of energy which allows him to see their true forms.
This leads to what have some critics have called the single greatest moment in all of cinema.
They are, of course, correct.
Now, can you honestly look at that and tell me F. Murray Abrams deserved to win Best Actor for Amadeus? Fuck the Oscars, man. Fuck ’em.
So, these aliens are the Red Lectroids, an evil species who all take the name “John” and are led by John Bigbooté played by Christopher Lloyd…
Yeah, actually back up. Can we just take stock of how many fantastic actors this thing landed before they got big? You got a pre-Robocop Peter Weller, a pre-Jurassic Park Jeff Goldblum, a pre-Back to the Future Christopher Lloyd, a pre-Highlander Clancy Brown a pre-The Big Easy Ellen Barkin, a pre 3rd Rock from the Sun John Lithgow and on and on…this movie has more soon-to-be-stars than the Horsehead Nebula.
While Banzai rescues Hikita, the Cavaliers are approached by John Emdall, who is one of the Black Lectroids, a race of aliens who appear to human eyes like Jamaicans with accents that make the cast of Cool Runnings sound subtle. Emdall explains that the Lectroids are from Planet 10 and that the Black Lectroids defeated the Red Lectroids and banished them to the 8th Dimension but that now the Red Lectroids are trying to use the Overthruster to free the rest of them from the 8th Dimension and that if Buckaroo can’t stop them the Black Lectroids will have no choice but…
Oh, and the Cavaliers also realise that the Red Lectroids first arrived on Earth in 1938 and that Orson Welles reported their arrival but then they forced him to claim it was a hoax and stop…
No. No. I’m done.
I will buy the aliens. I will buy the 8th Dimension. I will buy the guy with the killer cheekbones who is the world’s greatest scientist/brain surgeon/test pilot/rock star who married the Queen of the Netherlands. But I cannot and will not buy the concept of Orson Welles being forced to do anything. That is just rank silliness. Can you even picture that?
Anyway, the Black Lectroids tell Buckaroo that unless he can stop Whorfin and the Red Lectroids, they’ll fake a nuclear attack on Russia which will lead to Armageddon faster than you can say “Apocalypse”. Buckaroo briefs the president on this, and he tells Buckaroo to resolve the matter pronto because his advisers want him to just nuke Russia pre-emptively.
The Red Lectroids kidnap Penny and torture her to reveal the location of Banzai’s Overthrusther. Banzai and the Cavaliers storm the base to rescue her but Penny is wounded in the ensuing kerfuffle. While Jeff Goldblum tends to her injuries, Buckaroo and Emdall climb aboard the Red Lectroid’s spaceship as they try to enter the 8th dimension and manage to blow them up. Back on the ground, Buckaroo informs the Cavaliers that the Red Lectroids have been defeated, leading to the funniest exchange in the whole movie:
Mission Control: Buckaroo, The White House wants to know is everything ok with the alien space craft from Planet 10 or should we just go ahead and destroy Russia?
Buckaroo Banzai: Tell him yes on one and no on two.
Mission Control: Which one was yes, go ahead and destroy Russia… or number 2?
But Buckaroo doesn’t have time to answer piffling questions like this because Jeff Goldblum tells him that Penny succumbed to her injuries. But, as he cradles her dead body, a spark of alien energy zaps her, bringing her back to life. So Buckaroo Banzai is reunited with his lady love who has been brought back to life by mysterious powers beyond human comprehension.
And the movie ends with the credits promising that our heroes will return in Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League, a movie which does not exist, will never exist and was never going to exist because it’s all make believe and fairy dust. Nothing in this franchise is real. It’s all lies.
I can’t remember the last time I wanted to love a movie more and yet just couldn’t…quite…do it. There are some fantastic lines and at various points it feels like something by Wes Anderson, or Tarantino, or the Coen Brothers (which is about as sure a way to get me on my back with my legs in the air as yer gonna get). I made a list of all the things I love about this movie and ended up with the cast, the performances, the aesthetic, the music, the premise, the script, the dialogue, the special effects and the costumes.
That’s the thing. That’s the one missing ingredient. It drags like a dog. Over and over I just found my attention wandering because, while there are so many great bits here, you have to wade through so much dead space to get to them. Somewhere out there is a pared down edit of this movie that I could love with all my heart. But for now, I can only leave you with a semi-recommendation and go off to rescue my previously unknown sister from an arch-enemy I have never mentioned before and will never mention again.
NEXT UPDATE: 08 August 2019
NEXT TIME: A-List Actors! Flouncy Dresses! Mad directors! TITS! Come my darlings, as we bathe in the crimson pool of nineties excess with the most (mostly) faithful adaptations of Dracula and Frankenstein ever filmed! It’s Unshaved Mouse’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein versus Bram Stoker’s Dracula!