It is interesting that some of the first speculative fiction films were very escapist, from Flash Gordon to other serialized spaghetti sci-fi. I’m not certain whether or not The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai was supposed to restart that trend in speculative fiction films, but it did not succeed.
You would think that with a title like this, the film would have been fodder for Mystery Science Theater, but I remember liking Buckaroo Banzai when it was first released in 1984, and I still admire it today.
The film has a lot working against it. Number one, it introduces us to Buckaroo Banzai himself, who only has one weakness: he has no weaknesses. Seriously, the guy is a surgeon, physicist, and a rock musician. Not only that, he studies martial arts and even has a Marvel Comic dedicated to him and his group, the Hong Kong Cavaliers. It’s like he is some teenage boy’s wish fulfillment.
Buckaroo invents a Jet Car, which has the ability to drive through solid matter. Apparently, he is figured out that one quadrillion of matter is actual matter, so his overthruster is able to pass through a mountain through the 8th dimension.
The villain in the film is John Lithgow, who was once a doctor named Dr. Emilio Lizardo. He tried to go into the 8th Dimension in 1938, and we learn through an odd flashback sequence that his mind is no longer his. Lithgow hams up the role worse than his Shrek villain Lord Farquaad and the alien he played on 3rd Rock from the Sun.
Buckaroo soon meets a girl named Penny Priddy, and she resembles his late wife. There isn’t really an explanation, but Buckaroo theorizes that Penny is his late wife’s twin sister.
Lizaro kidnaps Penny, and wants Buckaroo to give him the overthruster. In the background, there are some aliens called Lectroids who get involved, and in all honesty, the plot gets very, very confusing.
The fact that the plot is so complicated keeps the film from getting extremely campy, and actually allows the audience to take it seriously. Well, about as seriously as one can with crazy plot like this.
It is clear that someone expected Buckaroo Banzai to be a huge hit, as the film ends with a promise of a sequel, Buckaroo Banzai vs. the World Crime League. Yeah, I would have liked to see that. I would have loved to have seen the long-range plans for Buckaroo Banzai, and can’t help but wonder if it would have been a good TV show, but targeted for adults and not children.