The horses he rode in on

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"TABB" Reviews

Time Magazine

Beyond Bananas

Directed by WD. Richter

What is this movie anyway? Only the first sci-fi western action adventure rock-'n'-roll melodrama farce. Only Star Wars, The Magnificent Seven, The War of the Worlds, The Right Stuff, Strange Invaders, Eddie and the Cruisers and Plan 9 from Outer Space mixed and mismatched as if by a mad scientist in his Late Show lab. And its Japanese-American hero? He is only the avatar of Han Solo, A.J. Foyt, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Christiaan Barnard, Bruce Lee and Bruce Springsteen. A state-of-the-art spaceship flying at the speed of light without narrative coordi­nates, Buckaroo Banzai is the very oddest good movie in many a full moon.

A feeble attempt must be made to synopsize the film's hallucinogenic plot. In 1938 Orson Welles scared his radio fans with a show about aliens who were landing in Grovers Mill, N.J. Buckaroo Banzai proposes that the New Jersey invasion was for real. The aliens were not Martians but "Lectroids" who had come from the distant Planet 10, who took on human form while searching for the tech­nology needed to destroy the earth and launch them back to do intergalactic evil. Now the technology, an Oscillation Overthruster, is just beyond their grasp: in the hands of our hero, who discovered it while traveling through solid rock and into the eighth dimension.

And so a ferocious battle of wits ensues. On one side: Buckaroo (Peter Weller) and the members of Team Banzai. On the oth­er: Dr. Emilio Lizardo (John Lithgow), once a brilliant physicist, now the vilest, battiest extraterrestrial in all the genre. Meanwhile, the benevolent rulers of Planet 10 hover above New Jersey in a craft that looks like the Mollusk from Outer Space, dispensing wisdom and even more confusion. Where will it lead? Most likely to nuclear annihilation. Already the President of the U.S. is opening a dread, eyes-only packet that reads DECLARATION OF WAR: THE SHORT FORM.

The plot, though, is only the lid of this Pandora's toy chest. Inside, the alert viewer will find humor, imagination and a little Oriental mysticism. (Buckaroo's slogan, "No matter where you go, there you are," could serve as a fortune-cookie credo for the no-problem '80s.) There is also a passel of sharp performances. The presence of such actors as Christopher Lloyd (Zenned-out on an inner voice that must sound like Daffy Duck's), Ellen Barkin (with her bruised features and street-angel smile) and Jeff Goldblum (heartthrob of the Mensa sorority) clues Buckaroo Banzai as very chic sci-fi. Lithgow, the movies' Mr. Versatile (transsexual jock in The World According to Garp, bumbling lover in Terms of Endearment, incendiary preacher in Footloose), here does a manic turn as Dr. Lizardo; it is as if old mad Ezra Pound were played by Klaus Kinski. And Weller - his cobalt eyes borrowed from Paul Newman, his iron jaw from D.C. Comics - makes a stalwart Renaissance man for the atomic age.

2001: A Space Odyssey proved that moviemakers didn't have to tell the whole story to hold their audience. Star Wars showed that a film could contain more in­formation than most viewers could catch the first time around and still be an all-time blockbuster. MTV serves up a Dali-catessen of surreal images, and everybody comes back for seconds. Gremlins goes through more drastic mood changes than Sybil; it has sold more than $100 million worth of tickets this summer. Buckaroo Banzai then, is simply extending the trend of data overload. Still, its creators, Earl Mac Rauch (New York, New York) and W.D. Richter (who wrote Slither and Brubaker), propel their film with such pace and farfetched style that anyone without Ph.D.s in astrophysics and pop culture is likely to get lost in the ganglion of story strands. One wonders if the movie is too ambitious, facetious and hip for its own box-office good.

At the close of this furious film the producers promise another episode: Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League. Is it possible that this wild bronc ride of a movie can be popular enough to spawn a sequel? Watch the grosses, and the skies.

--By Richard Corliss

TIME, AUGUST 13, 1984

Stars & Stripes

OK, buckaroos, fun for everyone

Staff writer

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai is a celluloid time machine. It turns reality into Saturday morning.

Here is a movie serial without the disadvantages. It's not in black and white. It's not divided into 13 pieces. It's not surrounded by cartoons and newsreels.

Buckaroo Banzai does evoke the spirit of a Saturday morning movie marathon, though. It brings the sting of over-salted popcorn to your mouth, and your Shoes seem to-stick to the gooey theater floor. It puts you on the edge of your seat, for the future of the very world is at stake, and only a band of bold young adventurers can save it.

Our hero, Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller), is a man of many callings - neurosurgeon, scientist, rock musician, savior of the world. He deals on equal terms with orphans, presidents, and aliens from the 8th dimension. And he dresses as if he just stepped out of Gentleman's Quarterly.

Buckaroo is a man to be reckoned with. One does not take lightly a person who can travel through solid rock at 500 mph. He also plays a mean guitar.

Buckaroo's nemesis is the evil Dr. Emilio Lizardo (John Lithgow, with orange spiked hair and gray teeth). Here is a man not only bent on the destruction of the world, he also shows a complete disregard for fashion sense. Lizardo, exiled from Planet 10 for heinous crimes against the state, is probably the only alien in film history to cultivate an Italian accent.

Joining Buckaroo in his fight to preserve the garment industry as we know it are his girlfriend, Penny Priddy (Ellen Barkin), and his rock band: Perfect Tommy (Lewis Smith), Rawhide (Clancy Brown) and Reno (Pepe Serna).

A late addition to the fight is Buckaroo's fellow neurosurgeon New Jersey (Jeff Goldblum), decked out in red cowboy shirt, white chaps and a 10-gallon hat on an 8-gallon head. He's a tall Gene Autry who can't sing.

It's only right that Buckaroo should be the person to save the world from these malevolent monstrosities from beyond reality - he's the one who put Earth in this fix in the first place. His experiments with the nature of matter, and his knowledge of how to exist within solid substances, unleashed these beasts from their imprisonment in the hell of the 8th dimension. Now their ambitions to regain Control of their own world have caught the attention of its current ruler, who intends to destroy them by destroying Earth. End of discussion.

Needless to say, goodness and truth win out over the aliens. But It's touch and go for a while. The situation looks bleak for our heroes as they are confronted by wave upon wave of aliens, all named John. Spying, treachery and deceit threaten to tear apart Buckaroo's team. Bullets whiz past our heroes' ears as they battle the bad guys in their warehouse. (They're not only aliens; they’re defense contractors.) And there’s the mandatory chase scene, in spaceships that look like titanic chunks of flying ginger root.

The whole package amounts to this: one of the most inventive, free-wheeling and intelligent adventure movies to come along in quite awhile. It’s got action for the kids (and for those of us who wish we were kids), and it’s full of spunky dialogue and intriguing plot twists to keep adults interested. It's not only a movie the whole family can attend, it's one the whole family can enjoy. That's an accomplishment.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai is playing at AAFES theaters. (By the way, the producers have promised another installment. Maybe we have a real serial on Our hands after all.)

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