Film Review: The Big Bus (1976)


It is often said that 1980 parody film Airplane!, by turning out to be ultimate genre spoof, ended the disaster epics trend that had dominated Hollywood in previous decade. Its achievement becomes even more notable in light of previous film that tried to do the same, 1976 comedy The Big Bus directed by John Frawley.

The plot deals with maiden voyage of Cyclops, gigantic nuclear-powered luxury bus which is about to start non stop service between New York and Denver. Problems, however, start even before the voyage. Bomb explosion forces Kitty Baxter (played by Stockard Channing), daughter of the scientist who had designed the bus, to find new driver. Solution comes in the form of Dan Torrance (played by Joseph Bologna), her old flame whose bus driver career came to screeching halt following the accident in the mountains and subsequent accusations of cannibalism. During the voyage he would have to deal with narcoleptic co-driver (played by John Beck), attempted sabotage by evil tycoon called “Ironman” (played by José Ferrer) and dozens of eccentric passengers, including some that want to kill him for personal reasons.

This film share not only similar basic premise with Airplane!, but also a similar approach to humour – series of many gags stuffed in relatively short time frame of hour and half in a hope that majority of them would work. Inevitable comparison between two films, however, show that the former was less successful, mostly due to screenwriters and co-producers Lawrence J. Cohen and Fred Freeman lacking the talent of Jim Abrahams and Zucker brothers in Airplane!. Although some of the jokes work and can make you laugh, most of them are either forgettable or difficult to understand without deeper knowledge of 1970s economic situation (like oil crisis) or popular culture. Despite interesting cast, no performance is particularly memorable, with Joseph Bologna, apart from appearing in two of the film most funny scenes, looking weak compared with similar character played by Robert Hays in Airplane!. It seems that even producers had some doubts about quality of their work. “Everyone dies… laughing”, promotional tagline, gives away lack of confidence that was later justified by this film’s poor commercial results and subsequent sink into obscurity. It looks like the producers invested less in a good script and more in props, like the real-life gigantic bus “playing” Cyclops, with its dimensions proudly displayed in the introductory scene which was supposed to spoof 2001: A Space Odyssey. As a result, The Big Bus is a film that could be recommended more to the public transportation history enthusiasts and less to the audience interested in quality comedy.

RATING: 4/10 (++)

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Critic: AA

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