I first sawTHE BIG BUS in 1976 when it played at a local theater. As a 12-year-old I thought it was the funniest thing I ever saw. I watched it again this past weekend and um, not so much.
Four years before the brilliant AIRPLANE, the same studio, Paramount released this similar disaster movie send-up. With a cast that included Joseph Bologna as a cannibalistic bus driver with a heart of gold, pre-GREASE Stockard Channing as a smarty-pants nuclear scientist slash stewardess, pre-FLAMINGO ROAD John Beck as a narcoleptic co-driver, post-DELIVERENCE Ned Beatty in the George Kennedy role, Jose Ferrer as a madman in an iron long, Ruth Gordon as Helen Hayes, Harold Gould as an old man, pre-DALLAS Larry Hagman as a doctor, post-M*A*S*H Sally Kellerman as the same character she always plays, pre-SOAP Richard Mulligan as her soon-to-be ex-husband and pre-HOUSE CALLS Lynn Redgrave as a Gloria Swanson clone with a plan of revenge.
The ambitious and convoluted plot involves the maiden voyage of a nuclear-powered bus, the Cyclops from a company called Coyote and the various folks involved in it's journey. The bus itself is a modern miracle - double-deckered, double-long and it includes everything from a cocktail lounge to a bowling alley to a swimming pool. Too bad it takes about 30 minutes before the bus even appears on camera!
Silly subplots deal with Bologna and Channing's romantic reunion, Ferrer's attempts to sabotage the bus, Gordon's dirty old lady trying to help a fallen priest rediscover his faith and Redgrave camping it up like a drag queen. There are also appearances by other TV favorites like Vic Tayback and Stuart Margolin.
Along the way, there are a few laughs (mostly from Ruth) and some early attempts at the kind of absurd humor that made AIRPLANE so successful. There are also some clever homages to the disaster film genre (notice the paintings in Ferrer's "sitting room") and an absolutely crazy scene involving Bolgona, Channing and a airtight room filled with Coke, Root Beer, Fanta and Fresca. The whole thing never quite gels correctly and it just kinda ends - as if the producers ran out of money. On my old scale of 1 outta 10, this one gets about a 5, mostly worth checking out to see the bus.