Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai!


The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai - Across the 8th Dimension! is a movie I desperately want to like more than I actually do. I well remember seeing this clever little science fiction adventure flick when it hit theaters in the 80's, playing one of the best art houses in the city I was centered around at the time. It's got all the elements of a wacky adventure, perfectly designed for my wheelhouse. Sadly it falls short in a number of ways despite its best elements.

The pulp roots of this movie are all too evident. Peter Weller is a dandy actor portraying a modern "Renaissance Man" in this story, a sensitive noble  genius expert in medicine, physics, and the secrets of a woman's heart. Weller brings a twinkle to the part, a gleam which helps sell what could be a load of crap for a lesser talent. This is a Doc Savage for the then modern and self-aware hip world of the MTV generation. It's got all the parts right, and Weller almost pulls it off.

Buckaroo, Cavaliers and More
The Hong Kong Cavaliers are the Fab Five of course, featuring a fine array of second banana talent (Clancy Brown - who I always like, Jeff Goldblum - who is always dorky, and other blokes whose faces are better known than their names alas). They help Banzai battle the threats to mankind when they aren't doing their Huey Lewis and News imitation in a local night club.

Red Lectroids
The threat to Earth this time are the "Red Lectroids" who came to our luckless planet from the 8th Dimension way back in 1938 and convinced media phenom Orson Welles to help them cover it all up as a Halloween prank. Hidden among us all this time as hideously stiff white men (Christopher Lloyd and Vincent Schiavelli are fun), these aliens are led by Lord John Whorfin (John Lithgow) who took over the body of a great scientist named Lizardo some years before. Now they want to return to their own planet and take over with the spaceship they've constructed here. Their enemies the "Black Lectroids" want to stop them and engage Banzai to help.

It's a whirlwind of activity from that point on, and not all of the furious motion pays off especially well. A reasonably sexy Ellen Barkin shows up as a sort of love interest for Banzai but seems hard pressed to find a role in the plot save as obligatory damsel in distress. There's much jumping and mugging and lots of overly wrought ironic dialogue for everyone. But sadly it doesn't necessarily add up to an engaging adventure, at least not as good a ruckus as it might've been.

The basic problem with this movie is it's too aware of itself for its own good. The smarmy not-so-subtle commentary on then modern life is too heavy handed to be as incisive as the creators desire. The irony drips, but not always where they'd like and often in way too much quantity. The movie is hurt too by a limited budget which saddles it with local discovered real-world sets that don't really convince. Running around peculiar factories was de rigueur in 80's movies and there's plenty of that here.

I want to like Buckaroo Banzai. I really do, but sadly I find it an uneven distraction at best.

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8 comments:

  1. Rip, you apparently got the same or similar cable package I got, and if you ain't watchin' Turnip Classic Movies it's gotta be Starz or Encore.
    I take issue with your review of this movie, good sir. I think sometimes it was a bit too busy, over the top, and too clever for it's own good,but I think it's well worth a watch. It is, on occasion, hysterically funny.
    But you liked that movie about a talking severed head, Rip. And least this movie has Ellen Barkin, her head and all the rest of her. I rest my case.

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    1. Yep. I have Encore and I have been checking my Turner Classics regularly. There's been some really good stuff lately. Ellen Barkin is a delight generally, but she seems a bit wasted in this one to me.

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  2. And the most entertaining closing credits I've ever seen. Better even than SKIDOO!

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    1. Back in the 80's closing credits became a bit difficult to endure then people started getting clever. I agree this one does offer up something different, though exceedingly cheesy in retrospect. I assume they were shot in the infamous L.A. River?

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  3. I tried to watch it on Encore yesterday too but I can never make it through. It looks like a movie I should like but it just seems to silly. Maybe if I had seen it when it first came out like you did I would have liked it. I think Jeff Goldblum could have played the part of Buckaroo even better then Weller. Maybe one day they will do a really good Doc Savage movie and not like the one from the 60's or imitations like this.

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    1. I'd like to see a really good Doc movie too. Now that Arnold is finally too old for the part, I hope folks can move on from the disaster that would've been.

      I caught part of Banzai again this morning and watched a few minutes. It grows on you, but that doesn't eliminate the core issues of the movie sadly being trapped in its trendy rags.

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  4. Buckaroo Banzai is awesome. The novel is even better and explains a lot of offhand comments and references. Marvel did a comic book adaptation which I have never read but would love to see. The closing credits sequence was done at the Sepulveda Dam.

    The Doc Savage film was from the '70s, not the '60s, and was okay except it tried to cram a least two books together and had that awful title song they kept repeating. Ron Ely was well cast.

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  5. P.S. Ellen Barkin was sex incarnate in her prime. Not bad now either.

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