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Bustin' Loose

Theatrical release poster for Bustin' Loose.
Directed by Oz Scott
Michael Schultz (uncredited)
Produced by Michael S. Glick
Richard Pryor
Written by Lonne Elder III
Richard Pryor
Roger L. Simon
Starring Richard Pryor
Cicely Tyson
James Hughes
Music by Mark Davis
Roberta Flack
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s) May 22, 1981
Running time 94 min.
Language English

This is about the movie. For the TV series of the same name, see Bustin' Loose (TV series).

Bustin' Loose is a film released by Universal Pictures in 1981 starring Richard Pryor as an ex-con who gets a second chance after violating his probation. School teacher Vivian Perry (played by Cicely Tyson) hires him to repair and drive a bus for a group of special needs children from Philadelphia to a farm in Washington state. Pryor also produced the film. Roberta Flack wrote and performed music for the movie. Paul Mooney has a small role. Though Rated R, the comedy is actually light-hearted fare when compared to other Pryor films.


Joe Braxton (Pryor) is a convict who violates his parole after a failed attempt to lift a bunch of televisions from a store in Philadelphia. After a dramatic attempt at reverse psychology with the judge, he is given a second chance at parole, and his parole-officer, Donald (Robert Christian), has him do something for him.

Donald is also involved with school teacher Vivian Perry (Tyson), whose school was just closed down by the city due to budget cuts. While most of the children have been relocated, eight special needs students have yet to be relocated. Vivian decides to take them to her aunt's farm in rural Washington. Donald is very much against it, and at first gets Joe to tell her the old bus she planned on using wouldn't work. However, that blows up in his face, but Donald then decides to have Joe go ahead and drive the bus to Washington.

As Joe, Vivian, and the kids get rolling, we learn a little more about some of the kids:

  • Harold is blind, but so badly wants to drive a vehicle, and eventually does.
  • Anthony is a pyromaniac who we learn accidentally burned his house down and killed his parents, whom he couldn't wake up.
  • Annie is a former Vietnamese child prostitute that has a knack for art.

We also learn that all Joe thinks he's there for is to fix and drive the bus, but he finds out his true knack for helping out the kids, especially shown when he reads Annie the riot act for her hooker-talk, and saves Anthony from setting another person's property on fire, and even takes the kids fishing for the first time.

The most memorable scene in the movie comes when, after fixing the bus in the rain on a dirt road, Joe and Vivian couldn't get it out of the mud. When Joe goes out to get help, he is found walking in lock step with a group of Ku Klux Klansmen, which follow him back to the bus. Joe then manages to talk the head Klansman and the rest into getting the bus out to get the kids (whom he said were ALL blind) to a hospital in Washington. They agree rather sympathetically and push them out of the mud.

Somewhere in Montana, Donald manages to catch up with them at a motel, after finding out Vivian lied to him and falsified the kids records. After trying to flee in the middle of the night, Donald catches up with them and tries to demand they all go back to Philadelphia. Of course, the kids don't want to, and Vivian and Joe aren't going to either. When Donald tries to continue on, he somehow gets arrested because his ID was switched with Joe's.

They eventually make it to the farm, where they're all shown having a good time. However, later in one scene, Vivian is shown at a bank sitting with a banker, and eventually leaves in a huff. Joe learns that she's about to lose the farm because she can't secure a $15,000 loan. One of the other kids, Ernesto, overhears them and tells the rest of the kids this. Joe then confronts the kids, who are whining and protesting about their fate. Joe even smacks Ernesto across the face when he tells him to "take a hike". He tells them all they're not losers, then gets in the bus and drives off.

He is seen on the streets of the town walking by the bank. He briefly picks up a brick, apparently thinking of robbing the place, then decides not to. At that, he sees an ad for a "trapezoid scheme" and goes in to learn about it, dressed as a cowboy from Texarkana. Eventually he works his way into sitting with the group and schemes to rip them off. He does and gets Vivian her $15K, then leaves with her, while two guys from the group chase after them with guns. After evading them and burning the money, they go back to the farm, where they have an argument about the money, and Joe has a major revolation.

Then they realize the old Rolls Royce from the bank is there, and found out the kids told the president of the bank (who is also the mayor of the town) a bunch of lies about what good things Joe and Vivian did, and it convinced the mayor to give the loan and make the kids a part of the community. After they celebrate, Donald shows up with a police officer demanding they all get returned to Philly, but has a confrontation with the mayor that he ends up losing. However, it did seem Joe was going to go back to Philly with Donald, but Donald gets to the end of the driveway, and changes his mind and lets Joe stay.


It was during the making of this film that Pryor lit himself on fire while freebasing cocaine. The resulting hospitalization and recovery halted production for a significant period of time. It also explains why Pryor's appearance changes noticeably in certain scenes.

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