Cult film is a genre that, by definition, defies categorization. Although describing Buckaroo Banzai as a cult film ultimately
diminishes it, I can think of no other way to describe the film that gives one a sense of its quirky nature. Taking its inspiration
from the pulp heroes of the thirties (Doc Savage, foremost of all), Buckaroo Banzai blends elements of science-fiction, comedy,
action, and romance, delivering a cinematic experience that is both bewildering and exhilarating.
Buckaroo Banzai follows the adventures of the title character, Dr. Buckaroo Banzai... neurosurgeon, particle physicist, adventurer,
and rock n' roll star, and his colorful band of followers, the Hong Kong Cavaliers (who double as his adventuring sidekicks and
backing band). The film leads us to believe that it is but a single chapter of an ongoing saga which existed long before the film
was made, and will surely contine afterward. Indeed, the full title of the film is
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension... a title forced on the director when the studio felt that
'Buckaroo Banzai' was too cryptic. Just goes to show you how little marketing schleps know about marketing. The particular
genius behind this film was the way it unabashedly went about creating an entire mythos surrounding Buckaroo and his crew. As you
watch the film, you at first feel as if you've been dropped in the middle of something totally incomprehensible. However, as your
mind adjusts to the film's bizarre perspective, you suddenly find yourself enjoying the ride because of its quirkiness, not in
spite of it.
The film starts off as Dr. Banzai performs brain surgery alongside his medical colleague Dr. Sydney Zweibel (Jeff Goldblum). For any
ordinary person, brain surgery would stand as the apex of one's day, but Buckaroo Banzai is anything but ordinary. Indeed, the
brain surgery has made him late for his other important appointment for the day, his attempt to drive a rocket-propelled racecar
through solid matter, in this case...a mountain. Before the credits have finished, Banzai is on the rocket car's launchpad. In
case you haven't seen the film, I won't tell you exactly what happens, but Banzai's attempt sets of a chain of events that
eventually unleashes a threat from the hitherto unexplored 8th dimension. A group of rogue aliens from Planet 10 escapes their
extradimensional prison, and, reunited with their lost leader, unleashes a plan to return to their home planet, putting the safety
of the planet Earth at risk. It's up to the noble Buckaroo Banzai and his stalwart Hong Kong Cavaliers to save the day.
If this sounds like a complicated movie, that's because it is. And director W.D. Richter doesn't do much to help the audience along,
either. He just kinda straps you in to the seat of Buckaroo's jet car and hits the accelerator. Blink-and-you'll-miss-them gags come
quick and fierce, and just about every single line of dialogue has something worthy of your attention...if you're willing to pay
attention, that is. I will fully admit this is a film some people simply don't 'get', not necessarily because it's incomprehensible,
but because its so willing to change gears at a moment's notice. I am amazed that it holds together at all, but it does... and for
those who are willing to take it at face value, its a charming, fun, witty film. The film features a number of strong performances,
particularly Peter Weller as Buckaroo Banzai and John Lithgow as Dr. Emilio Lizardo, the italian scientist whose mind has been
taken over by deposed alien tyrant John Whorfin. Weller's deadpan delivery is perfect for the stoic, analytical Dr. Banzai, while
Lithgow's performance can only be descibed as barely restrained lunacy.