Buckaroo Banzai might sound like a stupid name for a movie, but it’s not. Nothing could be more apt or encompassing for a film which seamlessly merges the wisdom of the Orient with the exorbitant excess and pageantry of the west. The embodiment of these collided worlds is played by Robocop. Not the actual Robocop (that would have been amazing) and not even Murphy (Robocop’s imprisoned human form), but the guy who played Murphy who eventually was turned into Robocop. You confused yet? Just wait, shit’s about to get crazy.
Buckaroo Banzai was begot by a genius Japanese particle physicist and a presumably worthless American strumpet hoping to marry rich. If people are supposed to buy Murphy from Robocop being half Asian, then I have a bridge I’d like to sell them, and not the Brooklyn one either, the one that connects the trailer park to the Maury Povitch Show.
The movie starts out with a bunch of scientists in the desert farting around with a bunch of toys that would make a steam punk shoot butthole cream into his pantaloon. They are all waiting on Buckaroo, who is apparently late. “Where is he?” you may ask, doing brain surgery with Jeff Goldblum, that’s where. They show up just in time for Buckaroo, dressed in a ninja outfit, to hop into an F-150 with a bunch of super science-looking equipment mounted to it. The main component is the oscillation overthruster, which allows one to travel through matter, delving into different dimensions. And just to let you know how very technical and steeped in technology his truck is, we are treated to a systems check: “Reserve brake system two, crosscheck, gear handle, throttle and start levers crosscheck, electric hydraulic pump and press, electro-nuclear carbonation seems fine sir…” It goes on and on like this for a while, and the point is made: you’re witnessing extreme precision by some of the world’s brightest minds, and none of them can hold a candle to the man in the cockpit, a man who only moments earlier performed brain surgery with the perfunctory ease of wiping a booger under a coffee table.
Buckaroo unleashes the monkeys of Hades on the gas pedal and burns the fuck out. While doing 500 MPH (that’s like 10,000 megapixels an hecthour or whatever for our European readers) he decides to make a 90 degree turn like fucking Tron and does so without flipping. After that, he breaks the sound barrier. Buckaroo, behind a helmet reserved for Mig fighter pilots, calmly surveys this world before entering the next.
That’s right, thanks to the oscillation overthruster, Buckaroo enters the 8th dimension. It looks like he’s going to crash into a mountain, but disappears into it instead. That’s when all hell breaks loose. Imagine you take a bunch of photos of your ballsack (maybe some of you don’t have to imagine that hard) and you bring them to get developed. Then, you throw away the pictures and just stare at the negatives for a few hours. That’s what the 8th dimension looks like. Buckaroo emerges with some goo on his windshield. I wasn’t sure what the fuck I was witnessing. Did Buckaroo create inter-dimension roadkill? Was he perhaps in god’s vagina? Did the bumpy thrusters of his F-150 bring her to cytoplasmic climax?
To further even try to explain the plot of this movie would be like a dog trying to explain to a fish a dream it had by pissing in the water. The best I can muster is to simply catalogue a series of scenes and/or aspects of this movie which I thought were interesting:
Jeff Goldblum plays the newest member of Buckaroo’s team and dresses like the cowboy from Toy Story (he obviously should have been given the main role, a superior actor who makes Murphy look like Emelio Estevez)
Christopher Lloyd plays an alien named John Bigboote
John Lithgow plays an alien who talks like Chef Boyardee
Mike from Breaking Bad plays an orderly at a psychiatric ward
Taggart from Beverly Hills Cop plays a fat cop, again
The ugly faced subway ghost from the movie Ghost plays an alien
So does Julian from Blood Simple
And Yakov Smirnoff plays the national security advisor.
Buckaroo Banzai tours this great nation of ours with fellow alpha males in a rock group named The Hong Kong Cavaliers. Note: Buckaroo is (allegedly) only half Japanese and every other member of the band is white. Where they got “Hong Kong” from both baffled and inspired: I finally worked up the nerve to form that rap group called Somali Warlords with Taylor Swift. Look out for our new CD, “Puntland Pirates: Fuck Your Freighter” I think it was necessary for Buckaroo to be a rockstar because being smart automatically put him on everyone’s nerd radar. Back in the 80’s, being a science nerd would get you about as much respect as a male cheerleader at a monster truck show. To balance off the nerd scale, Buckaroo was given a guitar, so you know, the audience could actually respect him.
At one point, Buckaroo and the Hong Kong Cavaliers are jamming the fuck out and stop mid-song because Buckaroo spots a pink-faced trampy chic crying her eyes out. She looks like one of the dead, clumpy unfertilized eggs in Cindy Lauper’s period. Buckaroo is sprung. He shuts up the crowd to ask her what is wrong. He’s going to get to the bottom of this. Nobody cries at a Honk Kong Cavaliers show. She tells him that she’s out of money and homeless (yet has enough skrilla to attend a concert and get wasted). The crowd doesn’t want to hear that weak shit; they paid big money to take in Buckaroo’s patented jazz/syth/rock sound. They start to boo. Buckaroo silences them again, chiding that they should learn some respect and realize that being a dick spreads bad karma. He then waxes with Zen-like wisdom, “Wherever you go, there you.” That’s actually a good point, and the kind of shit you learn from having an Asian dad. He decides to play her a sad piano ballad, and in mid-song, she takes out a gun from her purse and tries to shoot the distorted pussy-turd she calls a face but misses and wounds the ceiling instead. Buckaroo and the Cavaliers, who pack more heat than held in farts, all pull out weapons. Even the Rasta drummer whips out an Uzi. It is here we realize that this is a brotherhood of true Renaissance men sworn to uphold all that is right in the world.
Some aliens from Planet Ten who were pissed off about some of their war criminals escaping dimension 8 pulled a sick fucking burn on Buckaroo. They were all like, “Hey Banzai, the president called the pay-phone in your hotel lobby and wants to talk to you.” Classic set up. When Buckaroo answered, the aliens shot lightning from space into the phone which traveled through the line and hits Buckaroo in the face. Note: if somebody ever tells you the president is on the phone, it’s probably some sort of ruse.
Another great scene is when Christopher Lloyd comes out of nowhere and shoots one of the Hong Kong Cavaliers (Johnny Ringo) in the conference room before taking a Japanese scientist hostage. Buckaroo joins chase by hopping on an idle Harley Davidson. As he does, a guy yells, “Hey, you can’t ride that!” We smile because we understand what his man doesn’t: Buckaroo Banzai could ride a fucking bar of soap to Jupiter. I think he can handle a crude contraption that acts as the sole purpose of giving po-white-trash a reason to buy lottery tickets.
After Buckaroo explains to us that matter is filled with more empty space than we imagine, I became perplexed and intrigued! We could condense a mountain to the size of a baseball if we compressed all the particles, and it is in these empty spaces that other dimensions exist! Later that night, I returned home drunk and somehow convinced myself there were right wing evangelical lizard people from planet Zewzoid inside of my toothbrush, which I later tried to set on fire.
Another fantastic piece of cinematic brilliance was when two hick hunters, aptly named Burt and Bubba, shoot down a dinosaur from what may or may not be from the eighth dimension. Then what appears to be King Willy (The Jamaican drug kingpin from Predator 2) pops out of the creature wearing a plaid suit and proceeds to drop dead. When he dies, his body turns into an alien. Up to that scene, no context was provided. I did’t understand what I had just witnessed, but I was really glad that I had.
The good aliens who all talk with a Jamaican accent send Buckaroo a hologram message that you can only watch if you have bubble wrap on your face. There was a bad alien, “kind of like your Hitler” the hologram says. Really, a Hitler comparison? They are used all too frequently these days and usually mean the opposite. It made me start questioning which aliens were the good ones and which were the bad ones, which made the movie even more confusing.
(here, put this on)
The (supposedly) bad aliens shoot spiders out of their mouths. One of them hits Buckaroo’s lead saxophone player, and as he lay dying, he finds the strength to form a few last words, “what are you all looking at? Yall are on the clock. Saddle up!” and then passes away into Dimension Dead.
Everyone is really broken up about the whole thing. That guy could really blow. Buckaroo and his assembled team, which somehow now involves a cute eight year old boy, storm the bad aliens’ compound. Even the child is given an automatic weapon, and when they stumble upon a mass of idle aliens, a massacre ensues. Most of them are just casually laying about. One is even eating a bag of chips. It is the last thing he likely remembers before being slaughtered by Buckaroo’s death squad. Vengeance is a dish best served by angry rock-band scientists.
Buckaroo’s main squeeze is kidnapped and subject to vicious torture: The aliens pour honey all over her. It’s weird.
Have you ever looked at genital lice under a microscope? That’s what the alien spaceship resembled. I’m pretty sure one of the guys involved in creating props had crabs and this was to be an inside joke for the whole crew. The 80’s really were special.
The whole thing ends in a Bollywood dance/walk number, where even the dead characters come back to life to cut some rug. It was very pleasing.
I should probably mention that the bad aliens were a metaphor for the Commies. There was tons of subtext, but I wasn’t really trying to delve too deeply into it, as there was already enough to ponder. I couldn’t help but think of other movie premises that merge Eastern thought with Western decadence. I thought of some good ideas: How about Hamburger Samurai or The Bukkake Cadillac.
Lastly, there is an element of sadness to this film for me on a deep, personal level. One of the nicknames my mom had for me growing up was Buckaroo Banzai. As an adult, my only memory of this film was of some guy who drives a truck into a mountain. When she called me Buckaroo the other day, I decided to watch this movie again, thought it might be good for the site. My mother had great hopes for me. She wanted me to grow up to be a renaissance man who was real good at science, which is why I suspect she gave me this moniker. Watching this film made me realize the expectations she had for me. She bought me an erector set (which I neglected, preferring instead to cathartically squeeze cat turds in my sandbox). She worked extra jobs to pay for a French tutor, which would revive our native tongue, yet all I did was learn the words of all the cool shit like airplane, gun, and racecar. She wanted me to love science; I gravitated to sports. She wanted me to know music; I now write fart jokes on the internet. I’m a disappointment in almost every since of the word. Buckaroo Banzai was the man I was supposed to become: Scientist, philanthropist, test pilot, brain surgeon, musician, artist, and citizen of the world. I, on the other hand, remain an awestruck rube, surviving off of blue collar curiosity and luck. My appetite quenched by humor instead of success, content to be amused by this world without caring much to impact it. Pacified by the rationalization that I’m not part of the problem, I remain a spoiled child too petrified to commit to anything, chained to an aging body that time callously and slowly renders insignificant. My burned index finger from the botched toothbrush fire says it all. I need another drink. Fuck Buckaroo Banzai.