If you really want to split hairs, the reptilian Red Lectroids in this movie aren’t extra-terrestrials as usually understood. They’re from another dimension instead of another world. But, damn it! They’re still alien to our world, so they and their nefarious schemes still qualify the Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8 Dimension! as proper tie-in to this week’s Alien Invasion theme.
Man, I’m honestly at a loss as to how to describe this flick. An absurdist riff on Doc Savage? Does that work? Peter Weller’s Buckaroo may not have the classic pulp hero’s massive physique nor his peculiar hard-top hairstyle, but his being an adventurer cum physicist cum samurai cum test-car driver cum rock star is a quirky mirror of how the Man of Bronze is basically supposed to be superlative at everything. He even has a Fabulous Five-style group of familiars in the Hong Kong Cavaliers whom he turns to for anything he’s not good at.
That’s all already complicated without me even getting into the extra-dimensional Rastafarians, the super-charged use of static electricity and John Lithgow’s aggressively-eccentric performance as Dr. Emilio Lizardo.
Just… just watch the trailer, alright?
Yes, this has Peter “RoboCop” Weller, Jeff “Chaos Theory” Goldblum, Clancy “Kurgan” Brown and Ellen Barkin in roles wholly dissimilar to anything they’d ever play again. The plot rolls out like a feature length game of mad libs with only the most absurd nouns and verbs jotted into the blanks… and I suppose I mean that in a good way.
This really isn’t a movie you can enjoy in piecemeal. I remember catching a random clip of John Lithgow’s tongue-flicking, Eraserhaired creepiness as a kid and getting an honest-to-goodness headache over trying to process what I was watching. The charm of Buckaroo Banzai really lies in starting with the bizarre opening scene of him test-driving a ridiculous device that lets him drive through solid mountains, and then... just tagging along for all the amiable craziness like a backseat passenger in a high speed chase through a circus.
Actually, I’ll phrase it like this. The question of whether or not you’ll enjoy Bucakroo Banzai hinges on how intrinsically amused you are by the notion of Doc Savage randomly playing gigs with a New Wave band in between his adventures. Watch this clip and see how it agrees with your sense of humor…
The whole thing’s has such an unblinking, deadpan tone - - the real humor’s almost more in realizing how ridiculous everything is after the fact. You think about that scene above. The Hong Kong Cavaliers have gone straight to this gig after some out-of-this-world adventure and they stop this raucous rock show because one of them manages to hear one little lonely heart crying through the din? Banzai imparts this platitude on the mic that sounds profound, but doesn’t actually mean anything, and then Ms. Purty gets them all to draw their big automatic weapons because she chickens out on killing herself?If you get your chuckles from the involvedly morbid and bizarre, that's a joke with perfect structure.
Somehow, somewhere, someway, it evolved into Big Trouble in Little China.