"No matter where you go ... there you are." - Buckaroo Banzai
Director: W.D. Richter
Writer: Earl Mac Rauch
Principal cast members:
This 1984 science fiction/comic book adaptation is something of a cult classic, though its storyline and cast are mostly forgettable. There is something pervasive about the overall feel of the film, the hip cliquishness of the good guys and their organization, and the general silliness on display here that gets to you after a couple of viewings.
The storyline is confusing, at best. The essence is that we have a young man named Buckaroo Banzai. He is the son of scientists, Asado and Sandra Banzai, and he is by turns a neurosurgeon, inventor, rock star, and crime fighter. His organization, the Blue Blazer Regulars, are all multi-talented, highly loyal, and tragically hip in a pure 80s way. In the course of driving his jet car through a mountain by way of the 8th dimension, Buckaroo opens a portal to allow evil alien races to come to battle right here on our planet.
Peter Weller plays the lead and he is cool and detached throughout. Even when the action heats up, we rarely see Weller break a sweat and seldom does he crack a smile. He is a man who takes himself very seriously, though how anyone can take this film's plot and dialogue seriously is a mystery.
The villain in this flick is John Lithgow who rose to maximum exposure in American television on the comedy Third Rock From the Sun, playing a bizarre alien who is stranded on earth. Well, in this film, he plays a bizarre alien who is stranded on earth. As the leader of the Red Lectroids, the evil beings from Planet 10, he is Lord John Whorfin, a being who has inhabited the crazed body of Dr. Emilio Lazardo, a top scientist who once worked with Buckaroo's parents.
The damsel in distress in this mess is Penny Priddy, played with smoking hotness as usual by Ellen Barkin. Penny is the twin sister of Buckaroo's late wife and as such, is destined to be his love interest, but first she is the bait in an evil trap set by Lord Whorfin.
And that's probably all you need on the plot.
The principal characters do a decent job with what they're handed here. Frankly, the most uninteresting character in the piece is the hero who has top billing and supposedly is a man who can do almost anything. Weller's utter lack of empathy in the role is crippling. Lithgow is way over the top as Whorfin/Lazardo, but that's exactly what that particular role is designed to be.
More interesting throughout are the troops that follow these two. Among the evil red lectroids, all of whom are named John and all of whom arrived under the cover of Orson Welles 'War of the Worlds' radio broadcast are John Bigboote, John O'Conner, and John Gomez. The three are played by character actors Christopher Lloyd, Vincent Schiavelli, and Dan Hedaya and they make a marvelous team of villainy, even though Lloyd gets all the best lines.
The Blue Blazers are a lot more fun and get the coolest outfits. They are a backup rock band, after all, in addition to their other duties as scientists and crime fighters so they are pretty snazzy dressers. Jeff Goldblum leads the bunch as New Jersey, a surgeon who gets a casual invitation to join Buckaroo's team during an operation. Lewis Smith plays Perfect Tommy, the best dressed and arguably hippest of the Blazers. Clancy Brown is quite good as Rawhide, Buckaroo's right-hand man until he is felled by a red lectroid weapon spat from the mouth of John Bigboote.
The movie is not without charm. It has its comic moments and classic lines. It features a few minutes of hot rock and roll by the Blue Blazers playing in a night club, winding down in Peter Weller's tortured rendition of 'Since I Don't Have You.' What it lacks is a satisfying plot and a decently believable performance by the main character.
Nonetheless it is a cult classic of the 80s and it holds a special place on my DVD shelf.
Coolness factor: 7
Overall entertainment: 6