David Denby

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 435

[Bustin' Loose] doesn't aim high. It's a family comedy with a formula plot and a horribly corny ending, and the movie almost succeeds in domesticating Richard Pryor—certainly enough to make some of his fans squirm and mutter under their breath. Yet the whole picture is friendly and good-hearted in ways that are hard to resist. Family comedy is a genre usually left to television and the Disney people, a genre despised and ignored by critics. I found myself enjoying almost all of Bustin' Loose and laughing helplessly more than once….

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Looking a little puffy and perhaps a little sadder around the eyes than before his accident, Richard Pryor is as funny as ever—at times incandescently funny. His role here as an unsuccessful burglar and con artist is less a character than a set of comic opportunities, but that's fine with me. Like millions of others, I could be content watching Pryor simply walk. (p. 51)

Richard Pryor's physical comedy seems to spring directly from his unconscious (an illusion produced by hard work). Verbally, he's articulate beyond belief—a tempest of bluster relieved by vicious muttered asides. A querulous, put-upon man, somehow always a victim, he's capable of working up high-pitched accusations of racism against white people while he's in the very act of ripping them off. He falls into bluffs and scams instinctively, trying to swindle a hostile world through sheer speed. Bustin' Loose is so funny because the kiddies on the bus, who are really a bit crazy, turn their fantasies on him, and he can't outsmart or outtalk them. A blind boy who maniacally insists on driving the bus isn't faking; he's possessed, and so is a black girl who presents Pryor with a large teddy bear that has to pee every ten minutes or so. In fact, you would have to go back to the Depression-era Our Gang comedies … to find such an odd bunch of movie kids. They all try to push through dull reality with their fantasies, which is exactly what Pryor does with his frauds and put-ons, so he's on their wavelength in a way that stern, noble [co-star] Cicely Tyson can't be. No one could mistake Bustin' Loose for a good movie, especially since Pryor turns into a teddy bear himself at the end, but it has some of the same shambling pleasures as the W. C. Fields pictures, which were also largely a mess. (pp. 51-2)

David Denby, "Richard Pryor on the Road," in New York Magazine (copyright © 1981 by News Group Publications, Inc.; reprinted with the permission of New York Magazine), Vol. 14, No. 23, June 8, 1981, pp. 51-2.

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Vincent Canby


David Denby