Buckaroo Banzai is a rock-star / brain-surgeon / comic-book-hero / samurai / etc who along with his group, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, must stop evil creatures from the 8th dimension (all named John) who are trying to conquer our dimension. He is helped by Penny Pretty, who is a dead ringer for his ex-wife, and some good extra-dimensional beings who look and talk like they are from Jamaica.
Directed by: W.D. Richter
. Starring: Peter Weller
, John Lithgow
, Ellen Barkin
, Jeff Goldblum
, Christopher Lloyd
, Lewis Smith
, Rosalind Cash
, Robert Ito
, Pepe Serna
, Ronald Lacey
, Matt Clark
, Clancy Brown
, William Traylor
. Music by: Michael Boddicker
If there was ever a film to define the term "cult hit," it is The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai. A box-office flop when originally released in 1984, the film nonetheless drew a significant following on video and cable, even to the point where a television series was pitched a few years back. However, the flip side of being a cult hit is that there is a substantial portion of the audience that is mystified as to what that small group of followers sees in the original material. I find myself among the ranks of those who look at Buckaroo Banzai and say "Huh?" Nonsensical, lacking in energy or humor, Buckaroo Banzai is pretty much an exercise in strangeness for strangeness sake, and that just doesn't add up to an entertaining time at the movies.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai focuses on the leader of an eccentric group of scientistsrock musicians, The Hong Kong Cavaliers, who travel throughout the country, play clubs and research particle physics as well. They carry weapons, drive around in a tour bus, and have a small army of volunteers, named the Blue Blazers. Buckaroo (Peter Weller) is a highly skilled neurosurgeon who gave up full time medical practice to engage in his eclectic lifestyle, and has, with the assistance of his surrogate father, Professor Hikita (Robert Ito), invented a jet car that can travel through solid matter by transposing to the Eighth Dimension. This is accomplished by a device known as the Oscillation Overthruster, designed by Hikita, which quickly becomes a much sought after item.
It turns out that Hikita has been developing it since the '30s, where during an early experiment, his partner, Dr. Emilio Lizardo (John Lithgow), partially entered the Eighth Dimension and was possessed by a red Lectroid trapped there. He then managed to bring his fellow Lectroids to Earth, and upon learning of the successful test of the Overthruster, plans to use it to return to Planet 10, where his kind is from. Attempting to thwart this plan are black Lectroids, who team up with Buckaroo to fight Lizardo. At the same time, Buckaroo discovers the existence of Penny (Ellen Barkin) the twin sister of his dead wife, Peggy, which adds to his difficulties.
If you can follow the above plot description, then congratulations, you may be able to decipher Buckaroo Banzai. However, the film's convoluted plotting will most likely prove off-putting to most audience members. In place of a coherent plot, Buckaroo Banzai would seem to want to jazz us with it's rather off-the-cuff, anything goes attitude, but it proves to create mostly indifference. The film wants to be a science fiction parody, theoretically sending up the genre, but it's difficult to determine exactly what it is parodying. A lot of the scenes attempt to be funny, but they fail to be. Screenwriter Earl Mac Rauch and director W.D. Richter have decided to treat this movie like darts tossed at a wall: throw enough and something is going to stick. Yet, in the end, nothing really does, and the endless collection of disconnected ideas proves almost distracting, not fun.
The characters are also rather non-existent. Few of them make much of a distinct impression; most are just surface glitter, distracting us with wackiness, while lacking much of a core underneath. Who really is Buckaroo Banzai, or any of his co-horts? Peter Weller turns in a performance that could best be described as indifferent, breezing through the movie with the same basic expression and even level of energy. Jeff Goldblum is entertaining as one of his sidekicks, dressing up as a cowboy, but there isn't much outside of the outfit. When a character close to Buckaroo dies, there isn't a tear to be found because we barely know him. Also, the relationship between Buckaroo and Penny is almost nonexistent, and there is no chemistry between them to speak of.
On the villainous front, John Lithgow turns in an acid-addled performance as Lizardo, but again, it's just over the top weirdness that fails to be very engaging. The character is saddled with an Italian accent that makes dialogue difficult to decipher at times, but even when you can, it's just not funny. The rest of the villains are filled out with veteran character actors (Christopher Lloyd, Dan Hedaya, Vincent Schiavelli), but they are just random bodies in the background.
There are countless individuals who worship at the throne of Buckaroo Banzai, and there are more than a few cult films that have proved to be enduring entertainment (W.D. Richter's next writing assignment, Big Trouble in Little China, among them). But Buckaroo Banzai does not pass muster, proving that occasionally cult status is not a good measure of quality.
Review by rparham from the Internet Movie Database.