By Richard Winters
My Rating: 5 out of 10
4-Word Review: This thing is weird.
Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller) is part-time rock band singer who has invented a mechanism that he calls the oscillation overthruster that allows him to travel through rocks and other solid matter. He is somehow able to do this by tapping into the realms of the 8th dimension, but upon doing so he also attracts the attention of some aliens lead by Lord John Whorfin (Jon Lithgow) who wants to steal the device and use it for their own nefarious needs. Buckaroo, who is able to recognize these aliens who otherwise look human to everyone else after being zapped by some electronic component through a telephone receiver by a group of other aliens, gets a group of fellow geeks together to help fight the evil Whorfin and his men before it is too late.
In a lot of ways this film is a refreshing change-of-pace and it is not surprising that it has attained such a strong cult following. Most films with such an offbeat concept end up selling out and becoming quite formulaic and conventional with only a few odd elements thrown in for good measure, but this movie is completely weird in all facets and truly lives up to its campy over-the-top title. I loved the off-the-wall banter, ridiculously silly, but still quite entertaining special effects and characters that are uniformly warped. The comic book look is great and the story gets increasingly more absurd as it goes along. You have to tune out your logic and conventional movie mode to get into this and enjoy it, but the humor and chuckles are there if you let it.
Unfortunately the pace as well as the beginning become a bit too off. I found things to be completely confusing at the start that I really couldn’t understand what was going on for the whole first half-hour. The film seemed to jump from one outlandish scene and character to the next without any cohesion and the result was quite off-putting. It wasn’t until about 45 minutes in that I was able to finally get into the groove with it, but more of a background to the characters and a set-up would have helped greatly. There are still enough memorably unique moments to make it worth it including my favorite the Banzai Team March, which was filmed at the Sepulveda Dam in the San Fernando Valley and shown over the closing credits.
Weller is in fine form in the lead and seems much more at ease with this role than he was in Robocop where he came off as being miscast. Lithgow is a hoot as an over-the-top villain speaking with a heavy Russian/German accent. I also enjoyed Matt Clark as the Secretary of Defense who acts as if he is above all rules of protocol until finally being put into his place by a little kid with a rifle.
The closing credits listed a follow-up title that was supposedly going to be a sequel that unfortunately was never made due to the film’s production company going out of business, which is a shame as this thing had strong potential of becoming a major franchise. W.D. Richter who has an impressive screenwriting resume does well in his directorial debut and it’s an equal shame that he only helmed one other movie at this point as he shows potential to being uniquely talented in that position.
My Rating: 5 out of 10
Released: August 10, 1984
Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes
Director: W.D. Richter
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video
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John Lithgow’s most timeless quote:
“BUCKAROO BANZAI!!! I’LL SEE YOU IN HELLLLLLLL!!!!!”