Retro Review: Warbus (1986)

Retro Review: Warbus (1986)

Inspired by Enzo Sciotti’s kick-ass movie poster, we check out the napalm soaked war flick, Warbus.

I noticed quite a few possible gems while going over Enzo Sciotti’s fantastic catalogue of B movie artwork. The easiest to get a hold of was Warbus, surprisingly. A co-production of Italy and the Philippines, with questionable English dubbing, I suspected Warbus was going to be the hardest of my three candidates to track down. Turns out it is abundantly available online.

A title like Warbus and a poster like Sciotti’s made me think this flick had potential to be a “so bad its good” movie. Turns out that this little yellow school bus of death is a fairly competent war flick. While it doesn’t boast great acting or dialogue, it really commits to the “leave no hut unexploded” ethos of the later Rambo movies. Let’s dive in.

Warbus (1986)

Three embattled soldiers escort an old school bus carrying a group of missionaries deep into enemy territory.

Retro Review: Warbus (1986)
It’s a bus. In a war. Seriously, don’t overthink this.

Spaghetti Nam Flick

Most of the criticism (what little exists, as this movie definitely did not make a big splash in 1986) usually trashes the dialogue and dubbing. It’s noticeable, but not really any worse than the Spaghetti Western flicks that were popular in the 1960’s. You can mostly understand everything, and the film isn’t exactly trying to compete with Shakespeare.

The characters wind up being more interesting than I anticipated. Gwendolyn Hung seems like she’s going to be the obvious source of unprompted nudity, yet the film keeps it clean and actually gives her a nice character arc. A missionary, she shares an unstated thing with a former Australian convict who has mended his ways and joined the mission as their security. The relationship gets hinted at with quick glances and “will they or won’t they” moments that were well done. It also gets interesting because another missionary has a crush on her, which leads to him almost betraying the group, being exiled, and yet redeeming himself.

Not exactly the damsel in distress.

There’s a lot of character work where everyone on the bus has a story and complicated reasons for being where they are. The trio of marines who commandeer the bus are a bit flat to start, but also grow. They make up for somewhat cliched stereotypes by being a three-man wrecking crew crashing through Vietnam like a tornado.

All Out of Bubble Gum.

Our ersatz heroes are a rolling wave of misanthropy with infinite grenade and ammo hacks turned on. It would be a bit silly, but the violence is played so straight and with such great physicality that I admired most of the battle scenes. There’s a lot of interesting tactics, settings, choreography, and firepower used. And a ton of TNT.

The director apparently hasn’t met an explosion he didn’t like, as things go sky-high on the regular. Shoot into a cottage? Boom. Shoot a garage full of jeeps? BOOM. Throw a single grenade at the base of a watchtower? Good God almighty, BOOM!

That must have been the straw hut they kept the plutonium in…

Boom Goes the Dynamite.

I went into Warbus expecting a craptacular explosion of B Movie glory. Instead I got a pretty competent war flick with just a craptacular amount of explosions. All of the explosions.

Like I said, it sounds silly as hell on paper, and there certainly are moments where our heroes just kinda wave their machine guns in the general direction of a battalion and they all drop to the ground like its a fire drill. But, it just kinda works in Warbus. The actors and the director take it seriously, and put in a lot of blood, sweat, and nitroglycerin to make a proper war movie. Nobody will confuse Warbus for Hamburger Hill, but it was better written, acted, and choreographed than I had any right to expect. I’m kind of surprised this isn’t one of those war movies on heavy late-night rotation on channels like TNT or TBS.

Retro Review: Warbus (1986)
Good job, soldier.

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