© 1981 Universal Pictures

Bustin’ Loose (1981)

Director: Oz Scott
Starring: Richard Pryor
Cicely Tyson
Year: 1981

Although he made a small cameo appearance in The Muppet Movie (1979), the idea of putting Richard Pryor in a family film with a bunch of kids seems like a misdirected venture from the beginning. The fact that he famously set himself on fire during a drug-induced psychosis during the production probably proved this. When the actor returned to the shoot after recovering for several weeks, the director put in a lot of tasteless references to the fire incident.

Pryor plays an ex-con who takes a job driving a school bus full of orphans across the country in order to avoid going back to jail. He and the kids learn life lessons from each other, and their teacher and he fall in love on the way. Pryor was very funny when he wanted to be back in those days, but he is less natural when he is trying to be dramatic actor and there are some pretty heavy-handed attempts to tug on the heartstrings. A scene of Pryor teaching a blind orphan sitting on his lap how to drive a school bus is almost intolerable. None of the gags are especially original, such as Pryor changing a bus tire in the rain and falling into the mud, and most of the serious moments are corny, but there are rare moments when Pryor’s comedic genius shines through.

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