Picks and Pans Main: Screen
Possessed of a blasphemous wit and an angularly graceful comic style, Richard Pryor is probably more in tune with his audience—black and white—than any American comic onscreen today. For proof, check out this mediocre patch job transformed by Pryor into bracing entertainment. Richard is cast as a parolee commandeered to drive eight kids on a rickety bus from a South Philly ghetto to Seattle. Their schoolmarm, Cicely Tyson (looking lovely in a spiffy wardrobe no teacher could afford), is determined to show these racially mixed misfits the good life. Since pyromania and prostitution are just a few of the naughty habits the tykes display, Pryor has his hands full. Veteran theatrical director Oz Scott lets things turn to sentimental goo near the end, but before that Pryor (who has to share the blame, since the story idea was his) has cajoled mirth out of everything from white guilt to the Ku Klux Klan. Considering that a near-fatal accident last year almost prevented him from finishing retakes on the film, Pryor's Bustin' Loose is sweet triumph indeed. (R)
HISTORY OF THE WORLD—PART I
Mel Brooks' first film since High Anxiety suffers from his typical overload of juvenile plays on words and ram-it-down-their-throats vulgarity. With some hilarious scenes degenerating into disgusting ones, this is a real carrot-and-shtik job, as was Blazing Saddles, Brooks' most noteworthy previous epic of tastelessness. History shows Brooks in five vignettes (the Dawn of Man through the French Revolution). They lack the manic brilliance of his classic 2,000 Year Old Man LPs with Carl Reiner. Still, there are moments of inspired lunacy. When Moses drops one of three stone tablets bearing commandments 11 through 15, it shatters, and he says, "Make that 10 commandments." A Spanish Inquisition production number recalls the classic "Springtime for Hitler" scene from The Producers. But not even Sid Caesar, Dom DeLuise, Cloris Leachman, Madeline Kahn, Gregory Hines, Shecky Greene, Harvey Korman and the stunning Mary-Margaret Humes can save the rest of the film. The last frames promise a Part II featuring "Hitler on Ice" and "Jews in Space." It hardly helps. As Louis XVI, Brooks turns to the camera three times and mumbles, in New Yorkese, "It's good ta be da King." In Hollywood it's even better ta be da writer, producer and director of your own self-indulgent trash. (R)
A cynical American expatriate with a heart of gold runs a divey hotel-cabaret in a godforsaken tropical city, dominated by a Nazi and a corrupt police chief; then a beautiful girl with a European accent walks in. Are they playing it again, Sam? Not exactly, since the time is 1948, the locale is Peru, and this is not one of the most endearing films of all time. Even if Charles Bronson is no Bogart, he does contribute a resigned dignity as the American who offers sanctuary to Dominique Sanda. She's looking for a sunken ship full of German loot, and so is Jason Robards, who low-gears it nicely as the refugee Nazi villain. (He does have trouble with his German accent, though: vun minute ve haff it, the next we don't.) The plot is light on plausibility, and Bronson has to finesse some dreadful lines. When the corrupt cop, Fernando Rey, double-crosses him, Bronson declares, "There goes your soul, down the toilet." Still, director J. Lee (The Guns of Navarone) Thompson knows he isn't making a profound statement. As B movies go these days, this one is diverting and—nudity and violence aside—harmless enough. (R)
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