Mix theoretical physics, rock’n’roll, neurosurgery, Orson Welles and Rastafarian aliens from another dimension and you get this goofily eccentric genre-bending science-fiction action comedy. This is definitely one of those “love-it-or-hate-it” movies that you recommend to friends with caution. After watching this, they will either thank you profusely or recommend you for civil commitment.
Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller) is a brain surgeon, physicist and daredevil, head of the Banzai Institute and lead singer of hardest rockin’ team of scientists in the world, the Hong Kong Cavaliers. His latest feat, testing driving a new rocket car, takes an unexpected twist when he drives the vehicle through a nearby mountain range with the help of his invention: the oscillation overthruster. This attracts some unwanted attention from both the U.S. Government and a race of aliens known as Red Lectroids.
The government wants it just because they don’t want the Ruskies to get their filthy commie hands in it. The Red Lectroids, trapped on Earth and masquerading as humans since Halloween, 1938, need to get off the planet and re-conquer their home, known as Planet Ten. This alarms their mortal enemy, the Black Lectroids, who task Buckaroo with the assignment of stopping them. If he fails, the aliens will fake a nuclear strike on the U.S.S.R. and trigger World War III, destroying the Earth with the Red Lectroids on it.
As you can probably tell, this movie is intended to be pure, unadulterated comic book silliness, tongues firmly lodged in every cheek on screen. Take it seriously at your own peril. Peter Weller’s typical deadpan is perfectly suited to the film’s off-kilter tone and completely necessary if you’re going to deliver lines like “There! Evil pure and simple by way of the Eighth Dimension!” with a completely straight face.
Laugh while you-a can, Monkey Boy!
The film’s large cast delivers a wide variety of deliciously over-the-top performances, especially John Lithgow as Lord John Whorfin, leader of the Red Lectroids, who has possessed Dr. Emilio Lizardo, a friend and colleague of Buckaroo’s parents. Ellen Barkin makes a delicious first impression as the twin sister of Buckaroo’s dead wife and Jeff Goldblum matches Weller deadpan for deadpan.
This is not a movie that stands up well to overly analytical criticism. You either get into its giddy, quirky vibe or you don’t. If you can imagine yourself thinking, “A bunch of aliens that look like Rastafarians, all named John? That’s stupid!” then this movie is probably not your cup of tea.