Fernando Baldi, who spearheaded Italy’s efforts in the early 1980s revival of 3-D movies with Comin’ At Ya! and Treasure Of The Four Crowns, followed those films by taking up the flag for the “school bus goes to war” genre and he proves himself as more than capable of bringing out the drama that’s inherent in a tale of grizzled marines driving a bright yellow school bus through an enemy-infested Vietnam.
While inevitably inviting comparisons to other school bus war movies such as Pierluigi Ciriaci’s War Bus Commando, Warbus takes a more realistic approach to driving a school bus in the middle of a warzone and ratchets up the suspense by giving each character a tortured backstory.
It’s a smart move because in between bouts of raiding supply depots, blowing up thatched huts, and generally mowing down entire divisions of North Vietnamese soldiers, we remain riveted to the screen as our heroes confront their demons. Such as the burning shame of Dixie having to wear eyeglasses when he operates a radio. Truly, our heroes are also very human.
Luckily, our heroes also don’t take no crap – even from their own men! When old Dixie Foureyes gives Gus an order and he refuses, Dixie Foureyes gives the guy a dropkick and then pulls a gun on him and tells him not to make him repeat his order again!
Shoot, you think Dixie survived the Nam as long as he has with his far-sighted handicap by playing nice with others? It makes you wonder though if the reason there were only three marines hijacking that missionary school bus was because Dixie wasn’t wearing his glasses during a firefight and ended up wasting his own platoon by accident!
There ain’t no time to shed tears though just because Dixie’s wearing a pair of Coke bottles because there’s lots of other folks who’ve got problems, too! And also because there’s a freaking war on!
But really, who has time to worry about a bunch of Commies booby trapping the woods, mining the opposite side of river or guarding a bridge you’ve got to cross when there’s marital problems between a couple of the missionaries?
The husband seems to have a problem with watching other folks do the nasty which probably also points out that other folks have a problem doing the nasty right in front of the dang Warbus while dudes are watching! If memory serves though, the woman involved was the owner of a couple of cathouses in Saigon, so it’s probably just some sort of continuing education program for her.
Now, your regular, run-of-the-mill Italian movie starring Warbus or one of his imitators wouldn’t go any further in developing the character of the husband. Got to get back to heaving grenades and having characters jump off stuff in slow motion and all that. This isn’t just any old Warbus movie though, this is the Warbus movie!
So it is that we are treated to the husband explaining that he has some kids in South Africa that he hasn’t seen in years and that he and the old lady joined up on this missionary gig so that it would straighten her out. I don’t remember what he was claiming her problems were, mainly because he went and had a seizure not too long after this revelation!
His old lady comes to his rescue and explains that he’s an epileptic with schizophrenic tenancies and that his story about the kids in South Africa is all some big delusion he’s been having for something like 12 years! At least it’s not she’s an enabler or anything!
She doesn’t really have time to answer questions about why’s she’s still with this dysfunctional dingbat because she’s too busy trying to make time with the grizzled Aussie missionary who is also riding Warbus.
But just because this is a Warbus full of human emotion and drama doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have its share of blood and guts, too! Plenty of guys are shot, knifed, and blown up. There’s helicopter crews with bullets in the head and nails sticking out of their backs! There’s awe-inspiring moments of Dixie hauling around some mega-sized gun with strips of ammo several feet long! There’s also a plethora of guys rolling here and there to get into position to squeeze off some more rounds, including a classic moment where Dixie dives out through the glassless windshield of Warbus and rolls off the hood to get a better fix on Charlie!
I won’t sugarcoat things though. There are moments of great loss in this one as well. A lot of good people make the ultimate sacrifice during the big raid Charlie leads on our guys’ encampment while they wait for friendly choppers to get them out.
The death scene that will stay with me until it’s my own turn to pay my last debt to the man upstairs is that of Warbus himself. When Warbus was driven into a shed full of Commie rats on his last suicide run, I really thought I was going to lose control and break down. Until I saw that shed blow sky high! How you can be sad when crap is blowing sky high? You can’t!
Besides, Warbus wasn’t just some missionary school bus a bunch of marines too lazy to walk went and hijacked. Warbus was all of us real Americans, full of love and hate and with a burning passion to kill stuff. What it lacked in good gas mileage, it made up for with bravado.
I can still see Warbus helping to rescue Dixie at the fuel supply depot, running through barricades, and most of all, eagerly bearing down on those Vietnamese soldiers in the shed, knowing full well what his fate was. Sure, Dixie Foureyes was one tough soldier, but I think he’d be the first to say that he wasn’t a hero, only that he had the privilege to fight in the company of heroes. Guys who never got to come home. Guys who didn’t get any parades. Guys whose relatives got all the medals. Guys like Warbus.
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