Sunday, September 18, 2011

Movie Review: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the Eighth Dimension (1984)

Although Netflix sent me this DVD back in June, I didn't get to it until now (once again, I blame Warhammer 40,000). Buckaroo Banzai has been a sci-fi cult classic since it was released in 1984. In fact, quite a few of those who created Star Trek: The Next Generation were fans of the movie and inserted various in-jokes into computer screens, starship dedication plaques, etc. I had thus thought that I would like the movie as much as I have so many other cult sci-fi movies. As it turned out, Buckaroo Banzai left almost no impression on me.

Buckaroo Banzai is a brain surgeon, particle physicist, and rock star. He is recognized the world over and has regular phone conversations with the U.S. president. His band also doubles as his lab assistants and, when necessary, his heavily armed strike team. This makes for a wacky premise that is so underplayed that it loses much of its humor. Sure he's supposed to be a brain surgeon, but we only see him perform a single surgery at the beginning of the movie and then his medical expertise is never really used again. He's supposed to be a rock star, but he performs only once in a New Jersey club. Most of the time he plays the part of a particle physicist that helps to perfect and test a method for traveling through solid matter by entering the "eighth dimension" (he only does this once in the first 15 minutes of the movie).

The plot primarily revolves around the efforts of a renegade faction of alien beings from "Planet 10" to steal the "oscillation overthruster"; the device that allows one to enter the eighth dimension. Apparently these aliens arrived on Earth years before by way of the eighth dimension and want to use the device to return to their homeworld to finish their rebellion. In the meantime, the aliens have established a company called "Yoyodyne Propulsion Systems" that has received a number of defense contracts. When Banzai's trip through a solid mountain via the eighth dimension becomes famous, another group of aliens realizes that the renegade leader might be able to return to Planet 10. They arrive in orbit and threaten to destroy the Earth in order to kill the renegades if Banzai can't capture him first.

Overall, the movie wasn't bad, but it wasn't that remarkable, either. I was never bored (the unpardonable movie sin), but it seemed like the movie squandered most of its potential. It wasn't funny enough to be a real comedy and the wackier elements of the story weren't played up enough to be effective. At the same time there was too much comedy for it to be taken as a more serious sci-fi film. John Lithgow, who plays a human scientist who was possessed by the aliens' leader during an early attempt to travel through the eight dimension, gets the most chuckles. But this is through Lithgow's over-the-top Italian accent and Mussolini impersonation, which get old fast.

Then there are the stray plot threads that come out of nowhere and go nowhere and cause the story to lose its focus. The most egregious of these is the revelation that Buckaroo Banzai's love interest is the long lost twin of his (deceased?, estranged?) first wife. Maybe these plot threads would have made more sense if the sequel that's mentioned at the end of the film had been made. Normally I would mourn an unmade sequel (e.g., The Rocketeer deserved a sequel, but its disappointing box office receipts killed it), but the thought of the promised Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League just isn't that exciting.

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