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).