Maybe I just don’t like absurdist comedies. I can’t remember why I wanted to see The Big Bus originally–it just came up again last week–maybe because of director James Frawley (who directed The Muppet Movie), but I doubt it. I’ve seen a couple IMDb comments comparing the film to Airplane!, which came out four years after The Big Bus and aped its style. A lot about the two films are the same… except The Big Bus has better acting.
It has a great 1970s cast–Sally Kellerman, Richard Mulligan, Ruth Gordon and Ned Beatty. Linking through the filmographies, one could find many great–but relatively (if Harold and Maude still qualifies) obscure 1970s films. The lead, Joseph Bologna, I have seen in other films, but I don’t remember him. He’s good in Bus, giving an appealing performance while understanding the absurd humor. Stockard Channing plays the love interest and is weak. She gets it, but the part isn’t right for her.
The best performances are the small ones. Besides Mulligan and Kellerman as an arguing married couple, Rene Auberjonois is great as an atheist, sex-starved priest. He’s probably the best in the film, but there’s also Beatty and Howard Hesseman, who play bickering co-workers. Stuart Margolin’s got a really small part, but he’s really funny… basically playing Angel (from “The Rockford Files”) again.
The writers, Lawrence J. Cohen and Fred Freeman, make amusing observations about film stereotypes (the graveyard full of people talking to their deceased relatives), but they let the film get too long. Of eighty-eight minutes, only the last twenty didn’t drag, since there’s a half-hour before the bus even appears. That idea, of a nuclear-powered Greyhound, is a funny idea… but, like The Big Bus, it’s not laugh-out-loud funny. It’s a pun. There are a lot of puns in The Big Bus.
Still, the cast makes it interesting (and entertaining), if not worth seeing.