It’s not hard to see why The Big Bus seemed like a good idea at the time. Mel Brooks had just turned spoofs into big business, with Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein (both 1974), and the disaster movie was all the rage, making it an ideal satirical target. But even with good timing, a decent budget, and a cast filled with rock-solid comedy pros, this minor effort from the usually impressive producing team of Julia and Michael Phillips is thoroughly forgettable. From a film-history perspective, however, it’s interesting to examine The Big Bus as the first attempt to do what Airplane! did so much better few years later. The missing secret ingredient seems to be lunatic non sequiturs, because every joke in The Big Bus is hindered a laborious setup. The picture’s intentionally stupid plot concerns the maiden voyage of a giant nuclear-powered bus, which is fraught with problems like a crazed passenger who wants to kill the driver because she thinks he ate her father (and 109 other folks) after a bus crash in the boonies years ago. The caliber of the humor is summed up by a sequence in which the driver accelerates the bus to test whether it overcomes wind resistance, finally exclaiming, “We’ve done it! We’re breaking wind at 90 miles an hour!” The movie is borderline watchable because it’s handsomely produced, blasts from start to finish in 88 minutes, and includes lots of fun people: Rene Auberjonois, Ned Beatty, Joe Bologna, Stockard Channing, Bob Dishy, José Ferrer, Harold Gould, Larry Hagman, Sally Kellerman, Richard Mulligan, Lynn Redgrave, Stuart Margolin. There’s even room for Ruth Gordon of Harold and Maude fame, doing the sort of vulgar-old-lady shtick Betty White does today.
The Big Bus: FUNKY