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'Buckaroo Banzai': Wacky Hero for a Wacky World

December 06, 1990|RANDY LEWIS

Hollywood seems obsessed of late with bringing comic-book characters to life--fallout, no doubt, from last year's commercial success of "Batman," and on through "Dick Tracy" and the summer's sleeper hit "Darkman." Even "The Flash" and "Swamp Thing" now have their own TV series.

None of these guys, however, can compare with Buckaroo Banzai, the greatest comic-book hero who never was. True, there's no analogous real-world version of Buckaroo. But in "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai"--a wacky, jam-packed film that melds a variety of genres--Banzai is a neurosurgeon/particle physicist-turned-Zen rock 'n' roll detective who has his own comic book and a fan club (the Blue Blaze Irregulars) that's poised to come to his aid at the drop of an aerial ladder.

As portrayed by a pre-RoboCop Peter Weller, Buckaroo is also the hippest super-hero around. When not fronting his band of New Jersey rock 'n' rollers, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, he's busy creating a device to penetrate the eighth dimension.

Once he accomplishes this feat--much to the consternation of his insane asylum-bound archenemy, Dr. Emilio Lizardo (in another brilliantly chameleonic performance by John Lithgow)--Buckaroo must make peace between the warring Red and Black Lectroids or risk the destruction of planet Earth. But enough said about the credibility-shattering story that masquerades as a plot.

It's all played perfectly straight-faced--including neophyte Cavalier Jeff Goldblum's astonishing theory about how Martians really did invade Earth back in 1938 and brainwashed Orson Welles into convincing everyone it was just a radio hoax. As a result, some who see this combination parody and homage to sci-fi/fantasy tradition will simply wander away shaking their heads in confusion.

Because writer Earl Mac Rauch and director W.D. Richter have stuffed their film full of ideas, visual jokes and verbal asides, it holds up beautifully to repeated viewings--in fact, it might take two or three just to figure out what the heck is going on. It's worth it.

"The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai" (1984), directed by W.D. Richter. 103 minutes. Rated PG-13.

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