An old chum of mine recently left me a comment asking why, as a co-connoisseur of the inane, hadn’t The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension! been reviewed. Answer, I don’t know. So here you go MF this one is for you.
People have a love-hate relationship with this film. Many, especially younger people, believe it is (at best) a cheap sci-fi want-to-be made by idiots for idiots. Others look at The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension! and see it as brilliant because it is at once a spoof of 50’s era science fiction and a celebration of all sci-fi in general. The film is a cross between the action/adventure and science-fiction movie genres, and also includes elements of comedy, satire, and cheap, cheap romance. Well a movie can’t be all things to all people and anyone who knows anything about movies would have seen this film and known it was destined for the controversial cult classic list. If you like sci-fi and don’t take yourself too seriously to laugh at the genre sometimes, then you will probably like Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension!
Let’s take a look at the cast. Buckaroo Banzai was directed and produced by W. D. Richter (writer of Brubaker and Big Trouble in Little China (excellent movie)) and has a pretty impressive supporting cast including John Lithgow as Dr. Emilio Lizardo/Lord John Whorfin, Ellen Barkin as Penny Priddy, Christopher Lloyd as John Bigbooté, Peter Weller as Buckaroo Banzi and Jeff Goldblum as New Jersey. For a low budget sci-fi that is a pretty impressive cast—remember that Lloyd would go on to co-star in Back to the Future the next year–one of the biggest box office hits in history.
Ok so far we have a film that is going to be a spoof and a strong cast. There is only one thing left, the story. The story is where the film loses its appeal to the great unwashed philistines who unfortunately comprise a vast percentage of the movie going audience. I will concede that the film’s plot has many twists, turns and stops but anyone who does not have a serious case of ADD should be able to follow it.
Now to try to sum it up. The film opens with Banzai is preparing to test run a heavily modified Ford E-Series van powered by a jet engine capable of exceeding Mach 1. The car is also equipped with an “oscillation overthruster,” that looks just like a flux capacitor and that Banzai and his comrades, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, hope will allow the truck to drive through solid matter. The test is a success; Banzai drives the Jet Car directly through a mountain and emerges on the other side, but finds that an alien organism has attached itself to the “car.”
Learning of Banzai’s success, mad scientist Dr. Emilio Lizardo breaks out of the mental hospital for the criminally insane, where he has been a resident for 50 years. A black and white flashback shows Dr. Hikita (Robert Ito) (Banzai’s mentor) present at a failed overthruster experiment of Lizardo’s in 1938, trapping Lizardo briefly in the 8th dimension where his mind is taken over by Lord John Whorfin.
Whorfin is the leader of the Red Lectroids, a race of alien reptiles who waged an expansionist campaign against Planet 10. After being defeated by the peace-loving Black Lectroids, Whorfin and his group were banished into the void of the 8th dimension. Kind of like the villains in Super Man II but with no mirror. Lizardo’s failed experiment accidentally released Whorfin, and he soon brings many of the Red Lectroids to Earth in an incident that was accurately reported in 1938 by Orson Welles in his radio broadcast The War of the Worlds, only to be retracted as fiction.
The Red Lectroids are incognito as owners and employees of a defense firm named Yoyodyne Propulsion Systems. The Reds have been building a large spacecraft in the guise of a US Air Force program, the Truncheon bomber. They intend to rescue any remaining 8th dimension exiles and then try to take over Planet 10 again. Whorfin plans to steal the overthruster because they can’t make one of their own. Banzai’s team finds out about what really is going on at Yoyodyne and hacks into their computer only to discover that everyone there has the first name John. At first they believe it’s a joke, but then they notice all the Yoyodyne employees applied for Social Security cards on November 1, 1938 and all in the same town, Grover’s Mill, New Jersey.
In the meantime, a Black Lectroid spacecraft orbiting Earth contacts Banzai, giving him an electric shock that enables him to see through Lectroids’ camouflage (kind of like in Predator they change their image—the Black Lectroids appear to be Rastafarian Jamaicans, while Red Lectroids are Caucasians.) The ship also sends a “thermo-pod” to Earth, with a holographic message from the Black Lectroids’ leader, John Emdall, that gives an ultimatum: stop Whorfin and his army or the Black Lectroids will protect themselves by staging a fake nuclear attack, causing World War III.
With help from the Hong Kong Cavaliers, a collection of civilian volunteers named “The Blue Blaze Irregulars,” and a young woman named Penny Priddy (Ellen Barkin) (a long-lost twin sister of Buckaroo’s late wife), Buckaroo succeeds in his mission, destroying the Red Lectroids and saving Earth.
Whew, that was not the easiest summary to write. The talented cast each play their roles well and the film overall is low budget and looks it. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension!, with its low-budget look and cheesy special effects, fits with its theme of a spoof of 1950’s era science fiction films and all things sci-fi in general. If you can’t laugh at sci-fi don’t bother with this movie you would probably take it personally. Where do I stand on this movie? Well I like it, but I don’t think it is the end all be all of cult movies.