Cinema: It Came from Beyond Bananas

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Directed by W.D. Richter; Screenplay by Earl Mac Rauch

What is this movie anyway? Only the first sci-fi western action adventure rock-'n'-roll melodrama farce. Only Star Wars, The Magnificent Seven, The War of the Worlds, The Right Stuff, Strange Invaders, Eddie and the Cruisers and Plan 9 from Outer Space mixed and mismatched as if by a mad scientist in his Late Show lab. And its Japanese-American hero? He is only the avatar of Han Solo, A. J. Foyt, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Christiaan Barnard, Bruce Lee and Bruce Springsteen. A state-of-the-art spaceship flying at the speed of light without narrative coordinates, Buckaroo Banzai is the very oddest good movie in many a full moon.

A feeble attempt must be made to synopsize the film's hallucinogenic plot. In 1938 Orson Welles scared his radio fans with a show about aliens landing in Grovers Mill, N.J. Buckaroo Banzai proposes that the invasion was for real. The aliens were not Martians but "Lectroids" from the distant Planet 10, who took on human form while searching for the technology needed to destroy the earth and launch them back to do intergalactic evil. Now the technology, an Oscillation Overthruster, is just beyond their grasp: in the hands of our hero, who discovered it while traveling through solid rock and into the eighth dimension.

And so a ferocious battle of wits ensues. On one side: Buckaroo (Peter Weller) and the members of Team Banzai. On the other: Dr. Emilio Lizardo (John Lithgow), once a brilliant physicist, now the vilest, battiest extraterrestrial in all the genre. Meanwhile, the benevolent rulers of Planet 10 hover above New Jersey in a craft that looks like the Mollusk from Outer Space, dispensing wisdom and even more confusion. Where will it lead? Most likely to nuclear annihilation. Already the President of the U.S. is opening a dread, eyes-only packet that reads DECLARATION OF WAR: THE SHORT FORM.

The plot, though, is only the lid of this Pandora's toy chest. Inside, the alert viewer will find humor, imagination and a little Oriental mysticism. (Buckaroo's slogan, "No matter where you go, there you are," could serve as a fortune-cookie credo for the no-problem '80s.) There is also a passel of sharp performances. The presence of such actors as Christopher Lloyd (Zenned-out on an inner voice that must sound like Daffy Duck's), Ellen Barkin (with her bruised features and street-angel smile) and Jeff Goldblum (heartthrob of the Mensa sorority) clues Buckaroo Banzai as very chic scifi. Lithgow, the movies' Mr. Versatile (transsexual jock in The World According to Garp, bumbling lover in Terms of Endearment, incendiary preacher in Footloose), here does a manic turn as Dr. Lizardo; it is as if old mad Ezra Pound were played by Klaus Kinski. And Weller—his cobalt eyes borrowed from Paul Newman, his iron jaw from D.C. Comics—makes a stalwart Renaissance man for the atomic age.

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