Drunk Bus Review

(The SXSW Film Festival may have been cancelled, but our coverage will go on with reviews of films and TV shows made available to our critics.)

John Carlucci and Brandon LaGanke’s Drunk Bus is an anti-road-trip comedy with plenty of mileage. Where Seann William Scott and DJ Qualls once learned salacious lessons while crossing state borders, this is a story about retracing the same college-town loop day after month after year. Steering the wheel but electing to venture nowhere. Yes, metaphors run heavy in this public transit dramedy about dulling innermost pains with “safe” routines – but that doesn’t make (supposed) “real 2006 shit” any less resonant. Annoying dispatch operators, bean burrito firing squads and all.

Welcome to the “Drunk Bus,” where driver Michael (Charlie Tahan) aka “Fuckchop” (unfortunate nickname) transports stupefied students around campus during their late-night binges. After an altercation and a black eye, Michael’s company hires a titanic Samoan named Pineapple (Pineapple Tangaroa) as private security. Hours on the road reveal Micahel’s reasons for staying in nowheresville Kent years after graduating, his virginal shyness, and Pineapple’s island brand of no-cares mentorship. Michael’s new tribal tattooed co-pilot is maybe the devil on his shoulder, maybe his guardian angel, or maybe both – but in any case, their passengers are in for one unpredictable ride.

The pairing of Michael and Pineapple is a sweet and sour combination that immediately throws our rutted protagonist into playful unease. With no warning, the immovable Pineapple boards Michael’s bus – leather jacket studded and patched like a Hawiian Hell’s Angels representative. The skin-and-bones driver cowers, but Pineapple’s teddy bear ferocity far outweighs any volcanic outbursts of aggression. It’s an unlikely friendship arc you can sniff out like a beachside pig roast, but their polar opposite composition is a charming draw. Hence where the butting of heads and concurrent “teachings” come into focus. 

Michael reveals himself to be a heartbroken graduate whose life has stalled nine months after his chaste sweetheart dumped him for a more glamorous New York City lifestyle. Then, out of nowhere, ex Amy (Sarah Mezzanotte) sends Michael a text saying she’ll be coming home and would love to see him – punctuated with a winky face. What does her emoticon coding mean?! Pineapple hounds Michael about letting the text eat away at his sanity, as the scrawny boy toils away at what Amy *could* have meant. Writing responses, deleting them, staring at his outdated phone’s glow – an awkward, stomach-bottomed feeling too many millennials understand. It’s a signature generational symptom, obsessing over digital text instead of just asking for clarification, which makes Pineapple the “cure.”

Before Pineapple’s employment, Michael’s “excitement” comes from memorized landmarks along his same nightly course (lights on timers, dog park lady sniffin’ poo). What Pineapple injects is a flavor of anarchistic decision making. Where Michael would once ask “why bother,” Pineapple assures “why not” is the correct question. You’re clever to assume Michael’s actions come with both freedom and consequences, from headbutting partygoers to goth nursing students with night terrors to 40oz inhibitions. Michael is pushed outside his comfort zone, embraces turmoil, and cycles through generic subgenre beats like ignoring face-value opportunities while either languishing in his own neutral-gear indulgence or blindly following Pineapple’s charge. You’ve seen this story before, no doubt.

I turn to Tahan and Tangaroa as the reasons why Drunk Bus accelerates when similar cinematic vehicles stall. Pineapple’s chillaxed delivery behind a ghoul’s facade projects with lovable juxtaposition versus Michael’s endless pity-party. Both are extreme exemplifications of personality foils, and their connection is an alluring late-night enigma. Scripting can, at times, lean too heavily on expected tropes between uncommon allies (“just do it, bro” mentalities), and yet the lead duo’s unification is genuinely heartfelt despite hardened exteriors. Two men caught spinning their own wheels, trapped between “responsibility” and “purgatory.” Honest, rarely overplayed, and worth any stereotypical buddy comedy setups within a roving mobile chamber.

Riders come and go from queasy stumblers to girls who just wanna keep the party going, but Michael’s regulars are the film’s support system. No, you won’t be subjected to ninety minutes of Charlie Tahan’s repetitive movements into his navigator’s humdrum oblivion. Will Forte provides a wisecracking radio voice as “Fred,” who is the ghost of Michael’s future should he accept the $25K salary offer that awaits. Kara Hayward portrays art student Kat and Tonatiuh her gay best friend Justin, who seem to provide company most nights on Michael’s drives. All characters who’ve been offering answers to Michael’s solutions, but Pineapple’s is the only voice whose breaks through. Not to mention how Pineapple’s soothing wisdom spreads farther than Michael’s life (Justin, for example, whose parents aren’t aware of their son’s sexual preferences out of the boy’s fear of admission).

Drunk Bus straps you in for a semi-wild, uplifting ride out of somber darkness and into speedy reclamation. John Carlucci and Brandon LaGanke somehow don’t retrace the same tire marks left by self-help comedies of the past, mainly by retaining an authentic hopefulness. We glimpse Michael at his lowest (repurposing old photos a la horny male comedics) and happiest, just as expected. We witness Pineapple break into Michael’s universe like Mr. Kool-Aid Man and cause progressive destruction as only a punk-rock Buddha can. “Don’t do anything stupid. Or you know what? Do something stupid. I don’t give a fuck.” Wise words from a mountain of man, uttered with a calming smile. In their simplicity, much like Drunk Bus, I cherish those sentences more than expected.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10

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About the Author

Matt is an NYC internet scribe who spends his post-work hours geeking about cinema instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don't feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged).