If you enjoyed this piece, please consider subscribing to the premium version of JG2LAND. Exclusive content (like my exhaustive every episode review of “Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre” or my look back at Gus Van Sant’s Psycho) can be unlocked for just $2 a month.
This review was originally published via The Classical Mess, a Substack I was doing a few years ago before I found out they gave money to bigots.
When Jeff Goldblum was making Vibes in 1987 he told a reporter visiting the set that the film was merely “a light entertainment” and that he preferred “more serious, adult movies.” Goldblum went whole hog into those waters with Twisted Obsession (1989), a retelling of the 1976 Christopher Frank book The Dream of The Mad Monkey. Twisted Obsession is virtually unknown in the U.S. and if you see it you’ll understand why.
Goldblum plays an ex-pat screenwriter in Paris named Dan who suspects something carnal is occurring between a director he knows and the director’s teenage sister. Dan himself starts lusting after the sister; they engage in a few positively graceless sexual encounters and suddenly Dan’s embroiled in a love rhombus (this guy also has an on again, off again thing going with his lit agent). For good measure, Twisted Obsession includes a subplot about vanishing cadavers and clandestine, cult-like activities.
We’re supposed to feel a modicum of sympathy for Dan because his wife abandoned him and their small child and he can’t afford nicer clothes and he’s got an egregious, take-no-prisoners mullet. There’s zero warmth in Goldblum’s performance, however, so Dan is just a creep. Moments meant to feel playful come across as bitter and mean. When Dan spikes a corn cob into his son’s face as a joke (ha, that old chestnut) you only chuckle out of shock and discomfort because the anger is so palpable.
Twisted Obsession chokes to death on its own morose and surly vapors and it’s clear no one has any idea what to do with it now. One assumes Goldlbum’s current enthusiasm for the film must be nil. It does nothing to support his 21st Century persona as benign goofball; if anything, Twisted Obsession uncomfortably mirrors recent accusations that Goldblum’s offscreen behavior is not really benign. I only saw the movie because it’s part of The Excellent Eighties, a DVD set that positions itself as an ultimate source for kitschy, fun-loving crap from the ‘80s (David Hasselhoff is prominently displayed on the cover). Jeff’s mullet must have cleared the bar.
“Look at this dad’s wacky hair as he sexes a 17-year-old! Does he have a keytar too?”
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension
Starring: Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Jeff Goldblum
Directed by W.D. Richter
Buckaroo Banzai is a motion picture realization of the ultimate geek dream. What if you could be a scientist, a test pilot, and a rock star? What if a group of rag tag mercenaries hung on your every word and movement? What if you could force Jeff Goldblum to dress like Cowboy Curtis? It’s almost too much. Then they tell us this is a world where Ellen Barkin has a twin sister, and Buckaroo Banzai checks ’em both off before the credits roll. From Stephen Hawkins’ fever dreams to the big screen!
As the titular character, a heavily made-up Peter Weller discovers a way to rearrange his molecules so he can drive through a giant mountain range. He passes through the mountain and discovers a hidden form of alien life. Naturally, other aliens have been monitoring Buckaroo Banzai’s shenanigans from outer space, and the press conference where Buck announces his findings turns into a human vs. space creature donnybrook. After that, it’s up to our intrepid hero and his busload of saxophone-playing New Wave friends to figure out the aliens’ master plan.
John Lithgow’s in there as the head alien who isn’t really an alien, but for some reason the movie makes him vanish for about forty minutes while Christopher Lloyd and Vincent Schiavelli bungle around, so you forget about him. Such is the problem with the sprawling Buckaroo Banzai—they throw so many characters at you it’s hard to know where to focus your attention. Most of the time, I was staring at Jeff Goldblum in that ten gallon hat, waiting for him to break the fourth wall with some stuttering about his ridiculous costume.
“Ah, can you, can you believe these clothes? I look like…ah…Hopalong Cassidy! It’s absurd!”
It doesn’t help that Peter Weller plays the lead with all the emotion and charisma of a dead carp. For a rock n’ roll samuri scientist, Buckaroo Banzai is fatally subdued. The one character we’re really supposed to care about, and he’s reminding me of my CPA. What were my net losses for 2009, Banzai? He even made kissing Ellen Barkin look pedestrian.
Unsurprisingly, the sequel advertised at the end of Buckaroo Banzai—Buckaroo Banzai vs. the World Crime League—never came to pass. I mourn only the loss of more bizarre Goldblum costuming. We’ve still never seen him in a Native American headdress and jockstrap. Fingers crossed for Jurassic Park 4.
FINAL SCORE: One and a half stone-faced Peter Wellers (out of four).