Get On the Bus, which follows 15 African-American men on a road trip to the Million Man March, faces charges of sexism and exclusionism right from the start, both of which have dogged Spike Lee throughout his career. Organized by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, the march was a hopeful, inspiring event – if you were a black male. Yet only one man on the bus is an actual Nation of Islam member, and he never utters a word.
As the film proceeds and the miles roll by, Get On the Bus leaves politics behind and focuses on people. The bus passengers include a film school student, a biracial cop, a gay couple and a recovering alcoholic. There is also a reformed father and his gang-banging son.
There are enough issues here for three films by a perennial provoker like Lee, and critics will undoubtedly accuse him of throwing too much fuel on the fire. But this time, aided by Reggie Rock Bythewood’s thoughtful script, Lee’s ambition pays off. With 15 men squeezed together on a single bus, issues such as racism, homophobia and responsibility are tackled as they would be in real life: fitfully, passionately, derisively and, above all, hilariously.
As the film proceeds and the miles roll by, Get On the Bus leaves politics behind and focuses on people.
Despite its sociology, Get On the Bus is one of Lee’s funniest films. From O.J. jokes to raucous musical numbers (the members of the tour introduce themselves by way of a hysterical give-and-take rap), Get On the Bus reveals both the joy that dwells in these men’s souls and the pain that runs through their lives.
As with any ensemble piece, the actors must project their character in a short amount of time. The easy champion of this challenge is Andre Braugher of television’s Homicide. As a flashy, self-deluded actor (his claim to fame is a guest part as a janitor on Martin), Braugher hops from one passenger to the next; he irritates, teases and motivates, but never lets things get dull.
Some of the other riders are not so clearly defined. The gay couple’s sheer presence generates drama, but as characters both men are drawn in broad strokes. Richard Belzer (also of Homicide) appears briefly as a Jewish substitute bus driver, but he leaves mid-trip before the inherent tension of his situation is fully explored.
When the bus finally arrives in Washington D.C., the movie nearly swerves into melodrama. Yet there is a hint of Lee’s ultimate purpose in the unexpected way that the trip comes to a close (a plot point that shouldn’t be revealed here.)