Physicist, neurosurgeon and rock star Dr. Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller) is test driving his Jet Car through the solid matter of a mountain when he inadvertently unleashes a group of alien reptiles from the 8th dimension. I hate it when that happens.
With a title like The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, you know what sort of camp romp to expect, but this sci-fi spoof still manages to baffle at every turn. It’s easy to see why it flopped upon its 1984 release, but it’s equally easy to see why Buckaroo Banzai has since gained a cult following. It takes every opportunity to subvert the action/sci-fi genre, with a disregard for conventional narrative that makes it feel different, not only to other films, but to every preceding scene. This incoherence explains its box office bombing, alongside the spoofy bad movie stuff that too often veers over into just plain bad. But in amongst the schlock are glimpses of B-movie magic.
Earl Mac Rauch’s screenplay boasts some great gags, send-ups and non-sequiturs, with satirical elements jumbled in there somewhere (jokes about Russia have suddenly become very relevant again). The stupidity, misunderstandings and aliens saying lines like “let’s go back up to my office and talk about this like two reasonable beings” bring to mind later sci-fi satires such as Futurama, Event Horizon Crescent and Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. Each character is a parody of some genre cliché, including the crazy Colonel (“I’ve got enough decorations to snap a Christmas tree!”), the wise hero (“No matter where you go… there you are.”) and the Rastafari alien (that one isn’t a cliché but it’s pretty funny).
These wacky characters are well played by a cast of occasionally recognisable faces. Peter Weller, who would play RoboCop a few years later, is very cool in the lead role, with such comedic nonchalance towards all the ridiculous stuff going on around him that he’s more like Buckaroo Blasé. John Lithgow is always a treat to watch, here playing a mad scientist with a stupid Italian accent, along with appearances from Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd and Jonathan Banks.
Directed with huge amounts of energy by W.D. Richter, Buckaroo Banzai is a bonkers piece of escapist entertainment that invites you to switch off and enjoy its nutty sci-fi satire, safe in the knowledge that no amount of concentration will help to make sense of any of it.