Archive for The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension

Forget it, Jack, it’s Chinatown

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 10, 2021 by dcairns

Kurt Russell IS Jack Burton AS John Wayne in BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA. Long before Johnny Depp hit on the idea if being a leading man character actor and incorporating elements of impersonation — Roddy McDowall & Angela Lansbury for SLEEPY HOLLOW, Mick & Keith & Bowie for PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN — Kurt Russell, having played Elvis for John Carpenter, decided to do Clint in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and the Duke in BIG TROUBLE.

Unpopular opinion: this is one of those odd films you’re grateful for the existence of, without it being terribly great. I think THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI, directed by W.D. Richter who is one of the writers on BTILC here, is a better film. They both have a quality which seems ill-judged and out of control, but arguably isn’t — a breakneck forward thrust with snatches of incoherent exposition hurled out in all directions along the way and far too many factions attacking from a similar plenitude of directions. Arguably BTILC has a better gimmick in a hero who hasn’t a clue what’s going on, so gets to act as audience surrogate and ask useful questions. Whereas Peter Weller’s Buckaroo is too far ahead of us to be really relatable, so that cowboy brain surgeon New Jersey (Jeff Goldblum) almost takes over.

There are three credited writers, two on screenplay and Richter, oddly, as “adaptation” — what, one wonders, was the screenplay adapted INTO? Surely if it’s another screenplay, the word would be “rewrite”. One of the original writers, Gary Goldman, co-wrote TOTAL RECALL, which has VERY complicated script credits, and the other, David Z. Weinstein, has no other script credits, though his industry involvement in other roles, AD and script editor, suggests he’s probably written a ton of unmade scripts. And the whole thing feels a bit like too many cooks — too many monsters, too many henchmen, too many tongs, too many green-eyed girls, too many chums — an attempt to graft a Hawksian hang-out movie, probably Carpenter’s notion, onto a martial arts mystical action comedy.

Nobody seems able to do what Hawks did, which looked effortless when it worked, and aimless when it didn’t. Romero’s LAND OF THE DEAD occasionally gets close but has to depend on outright plagiarism from the script of TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT. But this one has charm, aided by the right actors — Dennis Dun is delightful, Kim Cattrall’s Nancy Drew routine is cute, Victor Wong lovely as always and James Hong a terrific baddie — a charm Carpenter hasn’t often infused his work with, though sometimes it looks as if he intended to.

A Hard-boiled Oeuvre

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 5, 2013 by dcairns

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For the first half of PEEPER (1976) I was almost convinced I was watching a neglected classic. The script, by W.D. Richter (BUCKAROO BANZAI) from a Chandler pastiche by sci-fi author Keith Laumer, served up a constant sizzle of snazzy dialogue and cynical VO, the latter delivered by Michael Caine in a straight reprise of his delightful manner in Mike Hodges’ PULP. As that film had wound up with a walk-on by a Humphrey Bogart impersonator, so this movie begins with one, narrating the opening titles in a piece-to-camera presentation that’s giddily audacious. Director Peter Hyams seems to be on top form, and his cameraman Earl Rath, who lensed the astonishing proto-steadicam shoot-out chase in Hyams’ earlier BUSTING, steeps the art-deco locations in acidic greens, achieving a distinctly 1970s neo-noir look.

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I had thought that the really hip 70s noirs had either mixed things up by going back further in time, or had updated their stories to the modern day. CHINATOWN does the former, but adds such a wealth of modern attitude — political, sexual — as to seem furiously contemporary, while THE LONG GOODBYE really squeezes every ounce of anachronism to be had from the conceit of Marlowe in modern L.A. Dick Richards’ 1975 FAREWELL, MY LOVELY remake with Robert Mitchum seems a stale exercise in nostalgia by comparison. But then I think of the late Michael Winner’s incomprehensibly Brighton-set version of THE BIG SLEEP, and I have to conclude that there are no rules except that good filmmakers are more likely to make good films. Bad ons, not so much.

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Anyhow, PEEPER starts great, the cast is very nice, Caine has chemistry with Natalie Wood, and then it all somehow goes to pot. Liam Dunn is a great comedy antagonist, but Timothy Carey and Don Calfa, excellent actors and types, are also reduced to stooge status, depriving the whole thing of necessary tension. Necessary even in what’s virtually a comedy. Oh, we also get the wonderful Liam Dunn — Mr Hilltop in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, the judge in WHAT’S UP DOC?, as a typically decrepit, wonderfully weaselly character, the only guy Caine can convincingly push around.

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When the climax involved Wood fighting aboard a lifeboat, I got a horrible sense of why the film doesn’t tend to get revived much. But maybe it just isn’t good enough — the plot never reaches an extreme state demanding drastic action, but peters out in some confusing twists. A major sympathetic character is murdered and goes unavenged. The long takes lack the dynamism of Hyams and Rath’s BUSTING work, and sometimes merely looks as if they didn’t have time to get adequate coverage. It’s a shame, since the first half is a real delight. They could make a whole series of sequels to that first half. I kind of regret they made the second half at all.