Thursday, June 16, 2016

"LAUGH WHILE YOU CAN, MONKEY BOY"


I saw THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION when it was first released back in August, 1984. I watched it again the other day and my take on the film hasn't changed in the subsequent thirty-plus years. That is that this film was designed from the get go to be a freshly-minted, straight out-of-the-box manufactured cult film. Oh sure, director W.D. Richter has maintained otherwise but I know a cult film when I see one and BUCKAROO was a cult film then and it still is.

Cult films aren't necessarily a bad thing. They can keep what was initially a commercial failure alive well past it's original sell-by date. The people involved with cult films, the writers, directors, and actors, can enjoy a small but ferociously devoted audience of fans who embrace everything about the film. Cult films also profit not just from revenue generated by theatrical screenings and DVD sales. Many cult films have generated tie-in merchandise of all kinds including action figures, comic books, video games and more.

The primary evidence for BUCKAROO'S cult status is in the very way the film is structured. The film opens with a brief flashback scene using "home movies"of a young Buckaroo, his family and friends attempting a dangerous experiment to set the stage. Then it immediately cuts to present day where an adult Buckaroo is attempting to perform the same experiment by driving a vehicle that looks like a pickup truck mated with a space shuttle (it's a rig that prefigures Marty McFly's time traveling DeLorean in BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)) through a mountain. The test succeeds but Buckaroo discovers a race of evil aliens that live within the spaces between solid matter.

But, as the screenplay by Earl Mac Rauch makes clear, this is not Buckaroo's first adventure. He's well known by everyone thanks to his fronting a rock and roll band, The Hong Kong Cavaliers as well as his work as a brilliant scientist and crime fighter. Buckaroo Banzai is an already established media hero in this world as evidenced by the presence of a Buckaroo video game and comic book. How many adventures he's already had we don't know but it's clear that "Across the 8th Dimension" is only his latest. And the end credits promise another forthcoming adventure, BUCKAROO BANZAI AGAINST THE WORLD CRIME LEAGUE, a sequel that, of course, was never produced.

It's clear that Richter and Rauch conceived an ongoing series of films about this "Doc Savage" style hero for the '80s. We're left to wonder what all of the other films may have been like because this is the only one we have. BUCKAROO BANZAI is humorous in a gently amusing way. There are no real belly laughs to be had. It has some action scenes but they're not excitingly staged and shot. The special effects are good and the cast tries it's best to sell the material. The show is stolen by the villains, an unholy quartet of evil aliens played by Dan Hedaya, Vincent Schiavelli, Christopher Lloyd and John Lithgow (the latter two playing crazy as only they can). It's goofy, don't-take-this-shit-seriously fun but it's neither laugh-out-loud funny or edge-of-your-seat thrilling.

Your mileage may vary. I know the film has lots of die hard fans. It's not a bad little film and I commend Richter and Rauch for taking a chance with such offbeat material and an unconventional narrative conceit. It's definitely a cult film, a slice of '80s pop culture that holds up fairly well. Worth seeing once.


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