In film, as with music, each genre has its popular singles and its deep cuts—the movies that get noticed, and appreciated, and the movies that only dedicated fans of the genre know and love. Cult classics are no different. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, is a deep cut. It’s got a dedicated fan base, but it isn’t as widely known as, say, Labyrinth or Gremlins. It’s the kind of movie that comes on TV late at night, when you’re a little tired, but just curious enough to keep watching.
The movie chronicles the experiences of multi-talented ultra-awesome genius Buckaroo Banzai. He’s a doctor, scientist and musician who keeps things lively, traveling and making scientific breakthroughs with his band, a group of fellow charismatic, brilliant types called the Hong Kong Cavaliers. One day, during an experiment involving a rocket-powered car, Buckaroo breaks through a dimensional plane and passes through a mountain. Once he busts through the other side, he discovers an alien life form stuck to the bottom of his car. At the same time, Buckaroo’s nemesis, Dr. Emilio Lizardo, hears of Buckaroo’s scientific breakthrough, and escapes from a mental hospital with the help of some alien buddies so he can use Buckaroo’s work for his own evil plans.
Perhaps the best thing Buckaroo Banzai has to recommend it is its crazed sense of style. It’s a wacked-out mashup of cowboys and samurai, with some cold war-era super science thrown in there for the hell of it. This is a movie that features physics, bow ties, ten-gallon hats and katanas, and they all complement each other perfectly, creating the kind of world any nerd worth their salt would sell their soul to live in.
The movie also sports a cast packed with the coolest collection of character actors around, and all of them look like they’re having the time of their lives. Consider: you’ve got the effortlessly awesome Peter Weller as Buckaroo, backed up by a group of bandmates that include Jeff Goldblum and ultimate “that guy” Clancy Brown. John Lithgow is Emilio Lizardo, and his team of lackeys features Vincent Schiavelli and Doc Brown himself, Christopher Lloyd. That’s an 80s movie dream team that could easily wallop the Brat Pack any day of the week.
Not to mention, they’re very snazzy dressers.
There’s an impressive amount of imagination on display in Buckaroo Banzai. There’s no denying that writer Earl Mac Rauch (who seems to have cashed out all his ideas here—he never produced anything else of note) had brainstorms of tropical storm proportions when putting together this script. The problem comes from trying to streamline all those ideas into a coherent plot. This is a movie that doesn’t make sense about 90% of the time. The tone is far from consistent—the movie can’t seem to decide whether it should be a solid Sci-Fi adventure or Spaceballs for the nuclear physicist set. The resulting confusion is the reason Buckaroo Banzai isn’t as popular as other movies of its kind.
This, for example, is how the movie handles flashbacks. Creative, yes. Necessary? You decide.
As with most lesser-known cult classics, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is a tough movie to define as good or bad. What it is…is gloriously bizarre. It’s got problems that, for any other movie, would make it unwatchable. But Buckaroo Banzai tries so hard to constantly entertain and surprise its audience that it’s kind of lovable. To really enjoy this movie, you’ve got to be willing to lose yourself in its oddball universe, and accept that sometimes things just aren’t going to make sense. And that’s OK. That being said, sometimes the best way to get to that place is with a couple of beers in you.
Take a Drink: any time someone mentions “the 8th dimension.”
Do a Shot: any time you find yourself thinking “Hey, it’s that guy!” when looking at an actor.
Take a Drink: when anyone says John Bigboote’s name wrong (it’s BIGBOOTAY!).
Take a Drink: every time Jeff Goldblum does something awkward.
Shotgun a Beer: when Yakov Smirnoff shows up.