Bustin Loose’ is available on Blu-ray now from Kino Lorber Studio Classics.
An unusual and ultimately charming film from 1981, Bustin’ Loose is a unique entry from an all-time comedy legend. Richard Pryor, who also produced and has story credit, stars as Joe Braxton, an ex-con who gets coerced by his slimy parole officer into taking a bus full of displaced kids on a cross-county journey to their new group home.
Poor Joe is forced to escort prim Miss Vivian Perry (Cicely Tyson) and a small army of misbehaving brats in a barely-running bus from Philadephia to Washington state, serving as both driver and mechanic. It’s a sure recipe for chaos as he tangles with the disapproving teacher, wild kids, and cantankerous vehicle (not to mention a pretty funny run-in with the KKK).
The film defies expectations though, as it doesn’t strike the tone we’d typically expect from the common trope of putting a famous actor or comedian in a movie stuck with babysitting a bunch of kids, carrying the trappings of a familiar family film framework but pushing those boundaries notably further than, say, Kindergarten Cop or School of Rock. The film carries an R rating and features plenty of Pryor’s characteristic salty language (albeit toned down).
The kids in the film aren’t simply the usual rascals or adorable goofballs, but a variety of special needs children with various impairments and psychoses. A young pyromaniac, for example, provides scenes of both humor and peril with his penchant for playing with matches. Another of the children is a former child prostitute who develops a crush on Joe, which he is forced to confront head-on in a very awkward but heartfelt conversation.
These situations add some depth and seriousness to the mostly humorous proceedings as Joe is constantly out of his depth, played both for laughs and tears as he navigates this weird territory and starts to genuinely care for the kids, while feeling unequipped to help them. These scenes are poignant and touching.
Lest things get too sentimental, the film actually pulls out a pretty weird and left-field final act in which Joe turns the tables on a gang of pryamid scheme grifters to raise cash for Vivian and the kids to afford their dream of staying in Washington.
Bustin’ Loose defies expectations, but its deviation from the usual formula ends up becoming its greatest strength. It’s an amusing comedy but also packs a lot of emotional punch into its simple story — though its rough edges make it tough to recommend to its target family audience.
Bustin Loose’ is now available in a new Blu-ray edition from Kino Lorber Studio Classics.
Audio Commentary with film critic Sergio Mims
Radio Spots (1:03) — a pair of 30-second Radio Ads
Promotional trailers — Trailers for Blue Collar (2:36) and I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (2:11), both available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics
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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.