The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Big Bus

The Big Bus is probably the definition of a cult film. Released in 1976, this parody of disaster movies was slammed by critics and didn't exactly light up the box office, earning a grand total of just $3.5 million. Four years later, a similar movie, Airplane!, not only became a massive success, it also popularized the idea of spoofing cinematic genres. That film owes a debt to The Big Bus, though, which may be why this one-time failure has held onto an audience of appreciative fans. It is now available on DVD from Warner Archive.

This is the story of the world's first nuclear-powered bus, which is set to make its maiden voyage, a non-stop trek from New York to Devner. The bus, dubbed Cyclops, is quite a sight. It contains a piano lounge, a bowling alley, and even a pool. Behind the wheel is troubled driver Dan Torrance (Joseph Bologna), a man getting a second chance after being banished from the profession due to allegations of cannibalism following a crash in the snowy mountains. (He maintains that he only ate a foot, and it was unintentional.) Dan is also the former flame of the vehicle's designer, Kitty Baxter (Stockard Channing). What neither of them realizes is that an evil tycoon known as “Iron Man” (in honor of the iron lung in which he resides) has planted a bomb on the bus. This endangers the lives of the various kooky passengers, which include a faithless priest (Rene Auberjonois), a divorcing couple (Richard Mulligan and Sally Kellerman), and a wealthy fashion designer (Lynn Redgrave).

The Big Bus was directed by James Frawley (The Muppet Movie), and while the jokes aren't as fast-and-furious as they were in Airplane!, they're often just as absurd. Early on, Kitty's scientist father (Harold Gould) is injured in an explosion while working on the bus. A St. Christopher medal gets embedded in his chest, and a doctor (Larry Hagman) says it's unsafe to move him. And so, in a running joke, the man stays on the ground in a parking lot for almost the entire film, enduring various weather elements. Dan's co-driver, meanwhile, is nicknamed “Shoulders” because he compulsively steers toward the shoulder of the road. The movie's big finale is especially wild, involving various goofball attempts to prevent the bus from going over a cliff. I'm still not sure how they pulled this bit off, although it's certainly the highlight of the picture.

Like most comedies of such apologetically silly nature, The Big Bus can be hit-or-miss in its humor. But the hits are fairly big and the misses are comparatively small. Viewers with a taste for absurd, non sequitur comedy will find a sufficient amount of laughs and chuckles. A game cast and an admirably shameless desire to whack you in the funny bone make The Big Bus a '70s comedy that is worthy of rediscovery.

( out of four)

Note: Warner Archive DVDs are manufactured on demand. To order The Big Bus or any of their other titles, please visit the Warner Archive Collection.

The Big Bus is rated PG for language. The running time is 1 hour and 28 minutes.

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