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Get on the Bus

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Get on the Bus

Starring: Charles S. Dutton, Courtney B. Vance
Director: Spike Lee
Rated: R
RunTime: 120 Minutes
Release Date: October 1996
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Albert Hall, Andre Braugher, Bernie Mac, De'Aundre Bonds, Gabriel Casseus, Harry J. Lennix, Ossie Davis, Richard Belzer

Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

Always imaginative director Spike Lee turns his attention to a real event in his fictionalized account of last year's October 16th Million Man March. His vision of the events is called GET ON THE BUS, and it takes the perspectives of one busload of black men from South Central Los Angeles headed to Washington for the big march.

The show is a rich tapestry of subjects and contrasting opinions. Just about every type of African American male gets on the bus. We have well off ones (Andre Braugher as up and coming actor Flip) and poor ones (Ossie Davis as downsized employee Jeremiah), cops (Roger Guenveur Smith as ghetto cop Gary) and reformed killers (Gabriel Casseus as ex-gang-banger Jamal), homosexuals (Isaiah Washington and Harry J. Lennix as lovers Kyle and Randall) and heterosexuals (the rest), promiscuous ones (notably Flip) and abstainers (Jamal), Christians and Muslims, religious believers and atheists, and most surprising of all, they even let a black Republican car dealer (Wendell Pierce as Wendell) on the bus. This faux piece of inclusionary politics is soon eradicated by having the Republican painted as such an enormous bigot that they declare him to be an "Uncle Tom" and quickly and physically throw him off of the bus.

Also on the bus is a father, Evan Thomas Sr. (Thomas Jefferson Byrd), and his teenage son Junior (DeAundre Bonds), who have been shackled together by a court order. The driver of the bus, George, is played in a rock of Gibraltar roll by Charles Dutton. George tries to make Evan Sr. feel better by telling him, "Teenagers mess up. You know man, that's what they do best."

Hill Harper is UCLA film student X, short for Xavier. There is a token white - a Jewish person named Rick (Richard Belzer) who is the alternate bus driver for a while until all of the discussions, pro and con, about Louis Farrakhan become too much for him. His parting words to George are, "I wouldn't expect you to drive to a Ku Klux Klan rally."

Perhaps the best part of the film is the lack of conclusions. Other than the one sided view of Republicans, other issues are introduced and pondered, but the film does not attempt to lead the viewer to any particular point of view. The script by Reggie Rock Bythewood seems happy just to be able to bring all of the subjects up.

When the show starts, Gary's girlfriend Shelly (Kristin Wilson) is dropping him off in her fancy convertible. She complains about the male only march that, "this thing is exclusionary." He listens politely, but gets on the bus anyway. He is half white, and the color of his skin makes him an easy and frequent target on the bus for the more prejudiced.

"Father God, we come to you on a pilgrimage that is bound for glory," intones Jeremiah on the bus before they embark. Soon they are off to the loud and rhythmic music of James Brown. As in most Spike Lee movies, there is a lot of music and singing. It reminded me of the bus on the way to the football games in high school where all of the players sang. Their Washington journey starts off full of high energy and fun.

Along the way they spend their time on the bus gabbing about their lives back home and arguing issues. There is even the obligatory fistfight, which I could have done without.

Sometimes they do take a break as they do at a rest stop where ever on the make Flip tries his moves on a couple of female strangers. His come on line is, "I've always heard that Dallas has the finest honeys on the planet." He sees this as natural male behavior whether single or married and argues with his fellow men, "You tell me what men who like women wouldn't want a little something on the side?"

This is film with so many people in it, it is easy to lose track. Even Randy Quaid drops by in one scene playing the cliched racist southern police officer.

Most of the show is a talkfest heading no place in particular. Only the bus has a direction. In a meandering show, toward the finish it takes a dramatic and unexpected turn. This is quite well done, but Spike Lee then throws on several extra endings which are only redundant.

There is one serious problem with the show. The prints of Elliot Davis's cinematography have major color problems. There are two long sequences, one lasting ten minutes where the color is so far off that you would refuse to pay for the processing if some lab did this to your film. It is my understanding that this is not some problem with just the print that I saw, but that it is a general problem and an artifact of rushing the show to the theaters in time for the march's anniversary.

Copyright 1996 Steve Rhodes

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