Universal // 1981 // 93 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Mitchell Hattaway (Retired) // February 18th, 2005
One con...eight kids...one outrageous journey.
Joe Braxton (Richard Pryor, Silver Streak) is looking at another five-to-ten years in a Philadelphia prison after being screwed over by his partner during the theft of some audio/video equipment. Joe's probation officer cuts him a deal, and the ex-con soon finds himself on a cross-country bus trip, transporting Vivian Perry (Cicely Tyson, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman) and her eight special-education students to a farm outside Seattle. There's just one problem: Joe hates kids.
It's been a long time (twenty years or so) since I last saw Bustin' Loose, and while I didn't find it as funny this time around as I did back then, it's still a pretty good little comedy. Sure, it's predictable (you just know Joe's going to bond with the kids), episodic (to say the least), and more than a little slapdash (especially during the third act), but there are some genuine laughs in the film, especially during a very funny scene involving some members of a Nebraska chapter of the Ku Klux Klan (always nice to see those fools get their comeuppance). Pryor is in pretty good form here (the meaner he is to the kids, the funnier he is), and the kids are nowhere near as annoying as you'd expect them to be. You also get some funny work from comedian Paul Mooney (who was a writer/performer on Pryor's short-lived but much-loved NBC series) as Pryor's partner in crime during the film's opening scenes, although it's too bad Mooney doesn't have more screen time.
As I stated earlier, there are some problems with the film, and I suspect many these are a result of the film's somewhat troubled production. Shooting was halted following Pryor's 1980 botched suicide attempt/"freebasing accident," and production later resumed with Car Wash director Michael Schultz (who received no official credit) replacing original director Oz Scott (who was making his feature debut). The kids vanish for much of the third act (I imagine more than a couple of them did some growing up during the hiatus), and there's a huge tonal shift during the last half hour, which looks to be the result of both Schultz's comedic sensibilities and some hasty rewrites. There's also evidence that the film was intended to be a bit longer; more than a few scenes feel rushed and all of the footage used during the end credits appears to have been taken from the cutting room floor. All in all, though, Bustin' Loose isn't a bad way to kill ninety minutes.
What is bad is the video quality of this disc, which single-handedly makes this DVD unworthy of purchase. The transfer is exceptionally noisy and grainy, especially during exterior scenes (at several points I thought the bus was being chased by a swarm of locusts). Black levels are poor, there's no shadow detail, and colors are drab and muted. The audio fares better, and is a lot punchier than I expected it to be, especially during Mark Davis's jazz/funk score and Roberta Flack's songs. As is usually the case with Universal's catalog releases, there are no extras.
Bustin' Loose is an entertaining diversion, but the awful transfer really sinks this release. You could probably pick up this disc for less than ten bucks, but it's not worth it.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Rated R