I’ve never been much for spoof movies. There are some exceptions, like the first two Scary Movies or Don’t Be A Menace. However, for the most part, these types of movies have never resonated with me. The jokes are usually not of great quality and kind of cheesy. Unfortunately, The Big Bus fell into this category. From the premise, I couldn’t wrap my head around the plot of this movie. A nuclear-powered double-decker bus piloted by a disgraced bus driver accused of cannibalism. It just didn’t resonate with me. I understand that films of this type were popular during this time, such as Airplane and its sequel, but for me, I couldn’t get past the sheer ridiculousness of the film to get any enjoyment out of it. Of course, my opinion is not the be-all end-all, as my research suggests that the film has apparently obtained cult classic status in this genre as well as won the audience award at the Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival in 1977. So clearly someone enjoyed it. However, as you are reading this review, I will assume that you are interested in my opinion, and my opinion is that it was not for me.
In a nutshell, the film was advertised as the ultimate disaster movie parody. A state-of-the-art nuclear-powered bus created by the Coyote Bus Lines, named Cyclops, has been completed, potentially enabling non-stop service from New York City to Denver, Colorado, supposedly a new milestone in bus history. However, an act of sabotage nearly derails the project. Following the sabotage attempt, the bus is relatively unharmed, but the scientist in charge as well as the bus’s driver and co-driver are injured or worse. Desperate to complete the endeavor, Kitty Baxter (Stockard Channing) enlists the help of her old flame, Dan Torrance (Joseph Bologna). Torrance, a once promising driver, was disgraced after an accident on Mount Diablo, which led to the aforementioned cannibalism accusation. Let’s take a moment and reflect on what we know so far. What part of this film premise sounds remotely believable or realistic? Granted, I understand that the point is to make fun of disasters for the sake of slapstick fun. However, I just wasn’t able to suspend reality to enjoy the film. As I watched, I found myself just shaking my head as I repeated the same thing over and over: “a nuclear-powered double-decker bus.” I will say the say that the scene where a man fended off a room full of angry bus drivers with a milk carton did get a chuckle from me, but mainly due to the outlandishness of the idea. There was the “breaking wind” turn of phrase, which also was a bit on the ridiculous side, but did evoke a chuckle.
As the story goes on, my ability to connect with the film did not get any better, as it was just one ridiculous idea on top of another. Take our villain, a sinister tycoon dubbed “Ironman,” no doubt due to his encasement in a large iron-lung apparatus, who plots with oil sheikhs to sabotage Cyclops using time bombs. Then there is his brother, who suggests that the best method of sabotage would be a man-made earthquake. Perhaps my main issue with this film is that none of it is grounded in reality. I accept that as a parody, the film is expected to be prone to outlandish and zany tropes and ideas. However, for me, I think I would have been able to wrap my head around the film a bit more if there was at least something that made any kind of logical sense. Perhaps that would have helped me to suspend my reality if there was something that tethered the film to reality. It’s just too fantastical for my taste. This was just not a film for me.
I don’t discount that the film will be enjoyable to some, nor do I have trouble believing that it earned its cult classic status. However, for me, this was just not a film that I could take seriously in any respect. Ironic, as the whole point of this genre of film is not to be taken seriously. It was just too outlandish and too fantastical for me to just sit back and enjoy it. I just ended up shaking my head and repeating the same phrase.