World famous Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller) is a true renaissance man: a scientist, surgeon, rock star and adventurer. Leading his band, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, and a selection of allies around the globe, he strives to push back the barriers of what is known about the universe, sometimes at great personal cost. Today he is attempting to prove something: that not only are there other dimensions apart from our own, but that he can break through the very fabric of reality to travel in them. To that end he has created a jet car which is technologically advanced enough to do so - but he should be careful that he is not noticed by whatever's out there...
W.D. Richter and screenwriter Earl Mac Rauch came up with this eccentric science fiction caper as a ready-made cult movie, but when it was first released, it flopped badly and took years to gather the cult audience that was intended. Its fans recognised that it was worth persevering with, though any promise for a sequel or franchise being brought to fruition was scuppered when the company which made the movie went bankrupt and the project spiralled into a hell of unresolved rights issues. That what we got here came across as part of a jigsaw puzzle where the bigger picture had been lost only made it more frustrating no more would be made of the concept.
Though that was what was most off-putting about this extremely complicated movie is that it makes no attempt to draw you in, it just babbled away merrily, throwing up plot twist after plot twist, jargon-filled dialogue which only made sense to certain characters and connections between them all that were impossible to fathom with a single viewing until you were truly baffled. The film has a love of obscurity and gadgets, and an off-kilter sense of humour where the details are amusing: the unexplained watermelon, the feet-operated spaceship controls, the little trumpet that Buckaroo plays, the "keep out" sign on a door. Some of the dialogue will have you laughing out loud, monkey boy.
A very fine cast of faces many of whom were about to hit some level of fame were assembled with only Ellen Barkin drawing the short straw as a damsel in distress with too little background; otherwise they at least had the ability to look as if they knew what's happening, but Weller was too cold when he should be cool. They say every sitcom has to have a Mickey Mouse or a Bugs Bunny as its main character, and Weller was assuredly a Mickey, though he was pitted against a Daffy Duck: John Lithgow, as Dr Lizardo, reaching heights of crazed villainy, with his weird accent, possibly Italian, and hair sticking up, scheming his way to bring a Lectroid civil war to Planet Earth which Buckaroo had accidentally instigated through his determination to experiment with science.
Meanwhile the supporting players are peppered with noted screen oddballs like Christopher Lloyd ("BigbooTÉ!!!") and Vincent Schiavelli as aliens, and Jeff Goldblum joining the Cavaliers who already include Clancy Brown among their number. We're still waiting for the proposed sequel, Buckaroo Banzai against The World Crime League as announced optimistically before what were possibly the greatest end credits of the eighties, dare we say of all time? But for all the cult adulation BB received, you can see why it never really took off in the mainstream, there was a remote quality to the tone which was reminiscent of being at a party where everyone was throwing in-jokes at each other and not bothering to include the uninitiated within that in-crowd. In addition, Richter's direction was curiously matter-of-fact, which is part of the deadpan appeal of course, but with everything, no matter how outrageous, put across with that blank lack of sensationalism, it's almost perverse how far the results go to make the extraordinary ordinary. Though if you get the joke, eventually or otherwise... Music by Michael Boddiker.