The Big Bus (1976) a (very) belated review

Another posting from my previous blog.  This one first appeared on March 16, 2011.  It is presented with some minor revisions for clarity’s sake:

Over time I developed a list of films I read/heard about yet hadn’t seen that I was intent on catching whenever I could.  Thanks to the proliferation of cable/movie channels and DVDs, this list of unseen -by me- films grows smaller ever day.  As of yesterday, that list is minus another film, one I heard about years ago and was curious to see.  A comedy that evoked memories of 1980’s Airplane!, yet was made a full four years before that classic.

Would it delight, or would it disappoint?  See for yourselves…

The Big Bus rolled (ugh) into theaters in 1976.  Like Airplane!, the makers of this film apparently looked over the landscape of then popular “disaster” films and decided to parody them.  In the case of Airplane!, the Zucker Brothers and Jim Abrahams took the very serious 1957 film Zero Hour! and essentially remade it as a parody, with nods toward the other Airport films that were, up to the previous year, pretty popular.

In the case of The Big Bus, the producers were far more ambitious.  They decided to parody almost the entire “disaster” film genre while having the “all star” cast face danger while aboard the most absurd moving vehicle they could think of: A giant, nuclear powered bus.

That’s right, a bus.

Even now I’m giggling at the absurdity of that concept.  Too bad the film, in the end, simply wasn’t all that good.  While Airplane! is a comedy classic and could well be my personal all time favorite comedy film, The Big Bus unfortunately disappoints because it just wasn’t as funny as I was hoping it would be.  Airplane! presented wall to wall jokes, from Three Stooges-type physicality to verbal jokes to outrageous sight gags.  There was simply no let up, and the most amazing thing is that it worked.

Airplane!’s secret ingredient, and one of the keys to its success, was that it took a bunch of “serious” veteran actors and stuck them in decidedly idiotic roles.  Despite the absurdities, the “serious” actors delivered their lines seriously.  Thus, you laugh out loud when Leslie Nielsen responds to the “Surely you can’t be serious?” line, or when Robert Stack and Lloyd Bridges mentally crack up while bringing the wayward airplane in for a landing, or when Peter Graves makes decidedly inappropriate comments to a young passenger.

The Big Bus, on the other hand, presents us with a large and fairly familiar cast that simply isn’t charismatic or zany enough to pull off the idiotic elements presented.  Perhaps the film’s best joke is presented early on, when we find out the man who will be driving the big bus on its maiden trip was involved in a previous bus trip that ended in disaster (and cannibalism!).  For those curious, the sequence is presented below.

I wish the rest of the film could have been that (dare I say it?) biting.

Sadly, the movie lumbers along, not unlike a real bus, with little momentum before reaching its climax.  Incredibly, it is there that the film seems to finally find some spark as the bus balances precariously on a cliff’s edge.  That sequence proved both surprising and visually exciting.

The bottom line: If you’re in the mood for a disaster movie parody, stick with Airplane!