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THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION (1984)

Article 3293 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-3-2010
Posting Date: 8-20-2010
Directed by W.D. Richter
Featuring Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin
Country: USA
What it is: Self-conscious cult movie

When modern renaissance man Buckaroo Banzai develops an oscillation overthruster that can take him to a dimension in between the atoms of a mountain, he sets into motion a chain of events that could release upon the world and invasion of red lectroids.  A race of black Lectroids, intent on preventing the invasion, threaten to start WWIII if Buckaroo Banzai doesn't destroy the evil Dr. Lizardo.

This was a deliberate attempt to start a movie franchise, and on that level, it must be considered a failure, as it never did result in the series of sequels that it intended; I hope no one is still waiting for BUCKAROO BANZAI VERSUS THE WORLD CRIME LEAGUE.  Why did it fail?  It's not the convoluted and somewhat confusing plot; if the other elements had worked, this would have just given viewers the impetus to rewatch the movie to sort it out.  I'm guessing part of the problem was the casting of Peter Weller in the title role; he simply doesn't project the right level of charisma and likeability to make a go of the series.  Furthermore, his sidekicks are a dreary bunch; practically all of them are playing in the same low-key laconic mode as Weller plays Banzai, with the result that none of them really becomes an interesting character; a greater amount of variety would have done wonders here, but ultimately the most interesing thing about them is their names.  I suspect Ellen Barkin's character is supposed to give the movie a bit of depth, but she ends up feeling more like a plot device than a real character, and when the movie turns her attempted suicide into a joke by having it mistaken as an attack on Banzai, the movie only underlines its shallowness.  In the end, the movie is stolen by John Lithgow, who opts for a bizarre, manic performance that provides the most consistently enjoyable part of the movie.  Other than that, the movie only works in fits and starts, and it is a little disappointing to see Christopher Lloyd stuck with a role that is little more than running joke about his character's name (John Bigboote).  Some recasting and better direction might have saved this one.

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