Buckaroo Banzai follows the adventures of the title character, Dr. Buckaroo Banzai... neurosurgeon, particle physicist, adventurer, and rock n' roll star, and his colorful band of followers, the Hong Kong Cavaliers (who double as his adventuring sidekicks and backing band). The film leads us to believe that it is but a single chapter of an ongoing saga which existed long before the film was made, and will surely contine afterward. Indeed, the full title of the film is The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension... a title forced on the director when the studio felt that 'Buckaroo Banzai' was too cryptic. Just goes to show you how little marketing schleps know about marketing. The particular genius behind this film was the way it unabashedly went about creating an entire mythos surrounding Buckaroo and his crew. As you watch the film, you at first feel as if you've been dropped in the middle of something totally incomprehensible. However, as your mind adjusts to the film's bizarre perspective, you suddenly find yourself enjoying the ride because of its quirkiness, not in spite of it.
The film starts off as Dr. Banzai performs brain surgery alongside his medical colleague Dr. Sydney Zweibel (Jeff Goldblum). For any ordinary person, brain surgery would stand as the apex of one's day, but Buckaroo Banzai is anything but ordinary. Indeed, the brain surgery has made him late for his other important appointment for the day, his attempt to drive a rocket-propelled racecar through solid matter, in this case...a mountain. Before the credits have finished, Banzai is on the rocket car's launchpad. In case you haven't seen the film, I won't tell you exactly what happens, but Banzai's attempt sets of a chain of events that eventually unleashes a threat from the hitherto unexplored 8th dimension. A group of rogue aliens from Planet 10 escapes their extradimensional prison, and, reunited with their lost leader, unleashes a plan to return to their home planet, putting the safety of the planet Earth at risk. It's up to the noble Buckaroo Banzai and his stalwart Hong Kong Cavaliers to save the day.
If this sounds like a complicated movie, that's because it is. And director W.D. Richter doesn't do much to help the audience along, either. He just kinda straps you in to the seat of Buckaroo's jet car and hits the accelerator. Blink-and-you'll-miss-them gags come quick and fierce, and just about every single line of dialogue has something worthy of your attention...if you're willing to pay attention, that is. I will fully admit this is a film some people simply don't 'get', not necessarily because it's incomprehensible, but because its so willing to change gears at a moment's notice. I am amazed that it holds together at all, but it does... and for those who are willing to take it at face value, its a charming, fun, witty film. The film features a number of strong performances, particularly Peter Weller as Buckaroo Banzai and John Lithgow as Dr. Emilio Lizardo, the italian scientist whose mind has been taken over by deposed alien tyrant John Whorfin. Weller's deadpan delivery is perfect for the stoic, analytical Dr. Banzai, while Lithgow's performance can only be descibed as barely restrained lunacy.