Thursday, 8 October 2009

Warbus (1984)

What's that you say? Looks like an ordinary school bus?
Fuck you, man! This is a WARbus.

The opening scene is so desperate to convince us of it's bonafide American patriotism it all but leaps out of the TV and crams apple pie down our throats. The mournful trumpets, billowing American flags, endless shots of statuary honouring the country's brave fallen soldiers, they all but guarantee you'll have a single, manly tear rolling down your cheek by the end of it. So naturally it's an Italian film. It is written and directed by Ferdinando Baldi (like the rest of the cast he is credited under an anglicised name, those sneaky Italians) who ran the gamut of Italian genre film including swords-and-sandals, spaghetti western and giallos, but is probably best known for Comin' At Ya!, a 3-D spaghetti western that sparked an 80s revival of 3-D film. So I guess he's partially responsible for Jaws 3-D. Fucker.

Warbus tells the story of the little school bus that could, a bright yellow bus packed to the gills with a cast of missionaries, prostitutes and mercenaries that manage to escape a Vietnamese mission right as it's being bombed into the ground by the VC. They are soon confronted by a trio of US Marines let by Sgt. Dixie (Daniel Stephen aka Catch Dog from 2020: Texas Gladiators) the only survivors after their entire platoon was wiped out. They commandeer their bus until they can get to the nearest American military base. This is no longer an ordinary bus. It's a WARbus.

They are kind of lucky these soldiers stopped by because it turns out that the bus driver man not only drinks and cusses and stinks up the buses... he's also a commie traitor! You'd think somebody would have noticed by now but apparently he's been driving North this whole time, right into the hands of the VC. After taking care of the traitor and turning the warbus around, the Marines head for the nearest military outpost but discover that the riverbanks have all been mined and they are very low on fuel. That night they stage a raid on an abandoned military base with hopes of scrounging some fuel, but find it completely overrun by VC forces. Their mission starts with stealthy throat slitting before transitioning into a desperate, explosion-filled battle for survival. Right as things start looking hopeless warbus comes crashing through the gates. God bless you, warbus! You may be bright yellow, but you ain't no coward!

Unfortunately we aren't all as brave as warbus. While the Marines are on their mission liberating fuel from the VC, Ronny the missionary (Don Gordon Bell) pulls his hidden fuel tanks out from under the warbus and tries to take off on his own! Luckily he's discovered by Major Kutran (Ernie Zarate), an officer in the South Vietnamese army who, despite his superior rank and frequent acts of heroism throughout the film, can only every hope to be a second string character due to his unfortunate affliction of not being white. Ronny's weird, paranoid and generally quite stupid behaviour might have you thinking he'd be more at home on the short-warbus, but later on he keels over from a seizure and his wife Anne (Gwendolyn Hung, who played Richard Harrison's wife in Fireback) reveals that he has "epilepsy with schizophrenic tendencies". That's got to be a pain to deal with, no wonder she's eyeballing all the other guys on the warbus.

Aside from Anne, the rest of the girls aboard the warbus don't get to do a lot except splash around in the river with no pants on and provide love interests for two of our heroes. Surprisingly despite being the hero Sgt. Dixie doesn't get any love from anyone. Even Anne's roving eye passes him over, going straight for a grizzled, middle-aged Australian played by spaghetti Western veteran Benito Stefanelli. Must be the accent. Or maybe she just goes for the bad boys (turns out he's a convicted murderer). Or maybe she just doesn't go for guys in glasses. Yes, poor Sgt. Dixie is forced to suffer the slings and barbs of his fellow Marines when he puts on a pair of glasses in order to operate a radio. War is truly hell.

Anyway, they use the radio to call for a couple of helicopters to pull them out, but unfortunately the VC intercept their communication and send out a platoon of soldiers. After enemy forces arrive and engage in synchronised tumbling, there is a massive gun fight that leaves several main characters and dozens of VC dead. In a final heroic act, the mortally-wounded Major Kutran gets behind the wheel of the bullet-riddled warbus and drives it into an ammunition dump, causing a massive explosion. Hail to the bus driver... bus driver man.

I've been giving this film a lot of shit, but it's actually pretty good. There's some pretty impressive explosions and exciting, well-staged gun battles. There's even a few touching moments amidst all the carnage. At one point they find the crucified bodies of American soldiers. Unable to bury them because the bodies have been booby trapped with explosives, they can do nothing but look on sadly and detonate the charges. In another scene they manage to find some music as they operate a radio and pipe it over the loudspeaker, giving everyone a few moments of peace before the final battle. Small touches like this and some strong character development really elevate it above many of the other shot-in-the-Phillipines cheapies. Take a ride on the warbus. You won't regret it.

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