W.D. Richter directed his first film seven years ago. It was "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai," a movie that went on to become a cult hit. Young people, year after year, have found it amusing. A fantasy comedy, it apparently speaks to them. It is very popular on campuses.
"Buckaroo Banzai" was also the last film Richter directed, so what happened to those seven years between "Banzai" and "Late for Dinner," Richter's second film as a director, which opens Friday?
"People keep sending me scripts, but they are all formula, and I want to stay away from that," he said. "And I've got another life. I write for a living, and directing isn't all that much fun. It's not really worth getting up that early. It isn't worth the hours you have to put into it."
He was calling from Massachusetts. "I go to California regularly, but I live here," he said.
He is delighted with the fact that "Banzai" has achieved cult status. "It really didn't do that well in theaters, but it has had great after-life," he said. "The film does well on cable and as a cassette, and that is very satisfying. It's important that it reaches people."
Before he did "Banzai," Richter, 45, did the scripts for "Slither," the remake of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," "Dracula." "All Night Long" and "Brubaker."
Told that Francis Ford Coppola is doing another version of "Dracula," Richter said it was to be expected. "They do one every 10 years," he said.
"All Night Long" had an interesting history. Lisa Eichhorn was doing the film opposite Gene Hackman when she was replaced by Barbra Streisand, and there was all kinds of speculation as to why.
"Well, Barbra was supposed to do it from the start, but she teased us and then withdrew," said Richter. "Hackman had agreed to do it because of Barbra and wasn't that happy when she dropped out. Later, Barbra decided to do the film, and Lisa had to be told that she was no longer in the cast."
So who was the lucky guy who told Eichhorn that she was no longer needed?
"I guess I was," said Richter, "but it wasn't all that bad. It's better to be replaced by someone like Streisand than it is to be replaced by an unknown actress. I think Lisa understood."
The film didn't do that well, despite Streisand's participation, and Richter thinks he knows why. "First, Barbra didn't want the script to be rewritten, so she came in late in the film, and her audiences wouldn't accept that," he said. "They never believed her in the role."
Eichhorn, meanwhile, faded from the movie scene. "She recently did something on Broadway," said Richter.
In "Late for Dinner," Brian Wimmer and Peter Berg play brothers-in-law who are frozen in 1962 and are revived in 1991.
"Some people have assumed that the film is science-fiction, but it isn't," said Richter. "I'm not really interested in doing sci-fi movies. I'm more interested in characters."
Because the boys return 29 years later, the film could have been one of those comedies that plays on anachronism.
Richter, however, didn't want it that way.
"We could have fallen into a deep trap if we had gone that way," he said. "If we were to truly address the facts, we'd have an entirely different movie, one that might have been a half-hour longer. It would be one of those alien-on-Earth things. Instead, we localized the film to interaction between the guys and the people they had left behind.
"It's really a movie about mystical realism," he said. "We were more interested in what happened on a realistic level."
He said he chose to do the film because "I wanted to take the cynicism out of American movies. It's a completely romantic film. Some people might say that we are stretching things by having a 26-year-old man hope to resume his association with his wife, who is now 53, but look at Jane Fonda. Fonda is that age. It could happen."
Wimmer won quite a bit of attention on "China Beach," the television series. "I was looking for a young Jimmy Stewart," said Richter. "I wanted someone who had vulnerability, and Brian has that."
Reaction to the film has been good. "There are those who say they have no idea what I am doing, but most people have loved it," said Richter. "I'd say three quarters of the people who have seen it have loved it."