Monday, October 10, 2011

Buckaroo Banzai

And the full title is The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984).  BB has become a cult movie over the years.  In my opinion, it is because the cast was amazing, creative, and uninhibited.

Most of the cast of BB were Bit Actors at the time.  Some went on to become much bigger stars, and many were chosen because they were unknown.  It is Peter Weller's (b. 1947) fifth movie, and was made before Robocop (1987).  Jeff Goldblum (b. 1952), John Lithgow (b. 1945) and Christopher Lloyd (b. 1939) each had a few more films under their belt, but were not yet household names. 

I guess the first read of the script of BB, before auditioning for a part, would scare away any A list star.  Here we have a neurosurgeon/physicist who is also a test car driver and has a rock band (and no time for much else, I imagine), trying to prove that his overthruster will allow him to drive through a mountain.  I can't see Harrison Ford (b. 1942) jumping at that role.  And did I mention, all the bad guys in the movie are named John, and the good guys are all Hong Kong Cavaliers.

Ellen Barkin (b. 1954) is the love interest, Penny Priddy.  Barkin has had a few good roles, including The Big Easy (1986) and Ocean's Thirteen (2007), and she has won an Emmy Award.  I don't put much weight on the Emmy, because I appeared in an Emmy winning documentary once!

Lewis Smith (b. 1956) only has 29 titles listed on IMDb, starting in 1981.  He goes on to play Curly Bill in Wyatt Earp (1994) starring Kevin Costner, but mostly he does guest parts on television.  He played Perfect Tommy, well, perfectly in BB. 

Robert Ito (b. 1931) has always been one of my favorites, ever since I got to know him as Sam on "Quincy M.E." starring Jack Klugman (b. 1922).  Ito has 129 titles listed now, but his career started a while ago.  His first movie was Women of the Prehistoric Planet (1966) starring Wendell Corey (1914 - 1968).  I think Wendell should have his own entry in my blog someday.  Corey may be best known as Det. Lt. Doyle in Rear Window (1954, and one of my favorite films), but his career ended after he appeared in The Astro-Zombies (1968). 

Just a few more names...Vincent Schiavelli (1948 - 2005) is another John (but he already looks like an alien), and Yakov Smirnoff (b. 1951) plays the National Security Advisor, of course.  The full cast list is long and distinguished!

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is a complex film that requires some minor understanding of physics to at least get some of the theory, and a quick wit to get all of the inside jokes among the more obvious ones.  It is a film that must be seen more than once to fully enjoy it.  But if you are trying to make sense out of it, you may have to see it many more times. 


  1. Missed this one...for good reason I think. BTW, not to be unpleasant, but I would say that Ocean's 13 was one of Barkin's good films. Maybe This Boy's Life or The Big Easy were good films, but for some reason she made a lot of crappy movies. She's good on Broadway, though.

  2. Thanks, Kim. Yes, you got me on that! Oceans Thirteen wasn't anywhere near as good as Ocean's Eleven (2001), and Ocean's Eleven (2001) wasn't anywhere near as good as Ocean's Eleven (1960). Ocean's Twelve fits in there somewhere.

    Poor movie choices (or offerings) are the sign of a Bit Actor, hence Barkin's inclusion here.

    Do yourself a favor and go watch BB. It really is an interesting film. And Barkin is very pretty as Priddy. You will probably want to join the cult!

  3. Buckaroo Banzai is a perfect film. It drops you in the middle of a narrative - these character are fully formed, and the feeling is you're watching a film several iterations into the series. This impression is magnified in the novelization, which is peppered with mentions of other adventures.

    It's effectively a modernization of Doc Savage, a polymath and his band of confidants who solve crimes and save the world from great threats.

    There's not an actor in the film that didn't go on to greater things. Clancy Brown (Rawhide) is one of the busier voice actors - he played Luthor on Superman the Animated Series, and is Mr. Krabs on Spongebob.

    Pepe Serna (Reno) has been a character actor ever since the film (You might remember him as "Mr. Nussbaum" in The Jerk)

    Billy Vera (Pinky Carruthers) was and is the front man for Billy and the Beaters, and a successful music producer in his own right.

    It is one of those films that if I find it running on one channel or another, it stays on.

    --MadPlaid, Blue Blaze Irregular

  4. It just occurred to me reading this post that I could have written about the George Clooney "Ocean's 11," "12" and "13" movies for CMBA's guilty pleasures blogathon. I really do like them...

    I've never watched "Buckaroo Banzai" all the way through. I missed it when it was in theaters and now it looks so '80s to me that I just get distracted.

    Here's a question: What happened to Peter Weller's career? Would have thought with the "Robocop" pictures he might've become a major star...

  5. Thanks for the insight, Vinnie. I am not really a BB cult member, so I appreciate your input. I agree that it feels like an episode in the middle of a series. Everything is in motion right from the start. A prequel would show where Prof. Hakita was working with Dr. Lizardo, which is only shown in flashback, and how Buckaroo went on to develop the overthruster.

    I think that BB has a dated look. With higher production values it would have held up better. The story is what keeps it going. If you allow yourself to get into it, you have to stay with it, just to figure it out.

    While many of the cast went on to bigger roles in other movies and TV shows, only a few made it to the A list. But they are all on my Bit Actors list, or they wouldn’t have been mentioned!

    I wonder how the sequel would have done, if they had made it.

  6. Thanks, Eve. I still think the Sinatra Ocean’s 11 is better, but it is good to see Carl Reiner, and I like Don Cheadle.

    I just took a look at Weller’s films, just after Robocop 2. It looks like he left the country and made foreign films that I have never seen (or would want to).

    Naked Lunch (1991) has this synopsis on IMDb, “After developing an addiction to the substance he uses to kill bugs, an exterminator accidentally murders his wife and becomes involved in a secret government plot being orchestrated by giant bugs in an Islamic port town in Africa.“
    That sounds as weird as BB!

    He shows up in Woody Allen’s Mighty Aphrodite (1995) and a few television series’ but not many big hit movies. Look for him on several educational cable channels narrating documentaries. He has a good voice for it.

    Now, clear your schedule, buy a nice bottle of wine, read the Wikipedia entry on Buckaroo Banzai so you have some idea of the story, and watch the movie all the way through. (Drink the wine first.)

  7. Sinatra's Ocean's 11 has more similarities to Clooney's Ocean's 12, in that in both cases you get the impression they spent more time having fun in each other'c company that in making the film good. IMHO 11 and 13 are both stronger films than 12. Sinatra's film is carried by the charisma of its cast; the Clooney film has a stronger and twistier plot, and more of a motive for the crew.

  8. Well, I just noticed I had spelled Banzai wrong in the post! Please feel free to tell me if I screw up!!!


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