Most cult classics didn’t start out trying to be that way. We’re fairly confident the people behind The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), Death Race 2000 (1975) and maybe even Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) thought they had some pretty good movies on their hands.
But every once in a while, some brave soul actually tries to make a campy, loopy, outrageously born-to-be-cult-classic film. Today’s case study: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.
The over-the-topness isn’t long in coming. Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller) is introduced as a man of many talents – among them, particle physics, brain surgery, and rock & roll.
During a desert test drive of his latest invention, the Oscillation Overthruster, Buckaroo revs his Jet Car up and drives right through a solid rock face, crossing over (momentarily) into the 8th dimension.
The evil Red Lectroids from Planet 10 had been banished to the 8th dimension, but now that Buckaroo has broken the dimensional barrier, they want out.
Meanwhile, Buckaroo rocks out with his East Texas bar band, The Hong Kong Cavaliers. But good-hearted Buckaroo stops the show when he spots someone who isn’t having a good time.
The glum one is Penny Priddy (Ellen Barkin), a suicidal lass with a thing for Buckaroo and a face just like that of Buckaroo’s dead wife (she turns out to be her long-lost twin sister).
Despite what looks like an assassination attempt (Penny was really trying to shoot herself), Buckaroo takes the lady under his wing.
He also has a Saturday morning TV show that attempts to teach kids such moral truths as respect for others and yourself. He has a comic book series, a line of true-adventure novels, and a number of films based on his life.
He has also founded – and trains with – a paramilitary community aid organisation called the Blue Blaze Irregulars, similar to the Boy Scouts but open to members of any age or gender. Oh . . . and he’s the personal physician to the President of the USA and regularly tops the rock & roll charts.
The Red Lectroids attempt a world takeover via a front corporation called Yoyodyne Propulsion – assisted by Dr Emilio Lizardo (John Lithgow in a movie-stealing performance) – and the fun really starts.
The Lectroids, all named “John” something (“John Ya-Ya”, “John Smallberries” etc), are after the Overthruster, which they hope to use to go fight the Black Lectroids back on Planet 10. We should point out here, by the way, that the Black Lectroids are also good guys, and that they all have Jamaican accents and appear to humans as Rastafarians.
But the Black Lectroids also take no Red Lectroid crap, and they’re prepared to spark a nuclear war to stop the Red menace – unless Buckaroo Banzai and The Hong Kong Cavaliers can do something about it.
The movie definitely had its weird factor amped up, but that was kind of the point.
Buckaroo Banzai filled its cult classic role well – it may never be confused with Citizen Kane (1941) or The Godfather (1972), but it’s definitely the best movie ever made about a rock and roll particle physicist brain surgeon (so far).
“No matter where you go, there you are”.
The end of the movie invites the viewer to watch out for the upcoming film Buckaroo Banzai vs. The World Crime League. This was the real title for a planned sequel that Sherwood Studios hoped to make if this film had been successful. Unfortunately, it was a box-office bomb, and Sherwood Studios went bankrupt.
Doctor Emilio Lizardo/ Lord John Whorfin
Secretary of Defence McKinley
Duck Hunter Burt
Duck Hunter Bubba
Black Lectroid Commander
Jessie Lawrence Ferguson