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Houston-backed movie Drunk Bus revs up return of the buddy comedy

Houston-backed movie Drunk Bus revs up return of the buddy comedy

Charlie Tahan and Pineapple Tangaroa in Drunk Bus
Houston-backed buddy comedy Drunk Bus premieres Friday, May 21. Photo courtesy of FilmRise

When John Carlucci and his family moved from a small town in New York to Houston in the late ’80s, he thought the city was gonna be all tumbleweeds and cowboy hats. Little did he know it would eventually influence him to become the filmmaker he is today.

“Houston was very integral in kind of building my creative world, when I started to kind of go into all things art-related,” the Brooklyn-based Carlucci, 46, tells CultureMap via phone. “And especially with cinema, because I now had a movie theater within five minutes from my house, and I would go constantly.”

He was even impressed with how movie tickets were distributed around these parts, like that time he caught a screening of the 1989 adaptation of Stephen King’s Pet Semetary. “Prior to that, going to the movies — your ticket was like one of those carnival tickets that comes on a roll, you know,” he remembers. “It says ‘admit one’ and you rip it in half. This is the first time I ever got a movie ticket stub that had the name of the movie printed on it, the time, the date, the location. I thought it was the coolest thing, and I saved it.”

He ended up saving a lot of his H-Town movie stubs. “I have them all in an album, from Willowbrook Mall to all over Houston,” he says. Carlucci attended high school at Strake Jesuit, where he met Michael Carroll, who would start a Houston-based entertainment financing company, Vanitas Entertainment with fraternity brother Tom Gordon, co-founder of Slim Chickens.

The meeting would prove fruitful, as Carroll, reached out to fellow Houstonians, Jay Fields of private investment firm Bear Dean Capital and Josh Oren, to help bankroll the new film alongside another Carlucci high school friend, Ed Nash.

About that film: This Friday, May 21 audiences around the country can get a ticket to Drunk Bus, the debut film Carlucci co-directed with longtime filmmaking partner Brandon LaGanke. Locals can catch it on-demand on all digital platforms, including Amazon Prime.

The low-budget comedy, which has won several awards and is South by Southwest selection, stars Charlie Tahan (Ozark) as a heartbroken, virginal bus driver who spends his nights shuttling around drunk, obnoxious college students from the same college he graduated from. He gets snapped out of his rut when he meets a large, facially tattooed Samoan (Austin actor Pineapple Tangaroa) who’s been hired as the bus’s security guard.

The two eventually become partners-in-mischief, with this burly eccentric pushing our boy to take some long-overdue chances. (Most of this actually happened to LaGanke, who drove a college bus in the aughts.)

After years of he and LaGanke directing commercials, music videos, and experimental short videos (including this R-rated short that went viral), Carlucci had his mind set on doing a feature. But he did learn putting a film together can be complicated and messy as hell.

“It sounds derivative, but always stay true to the vision that you’re trying to make,” he says. “Because it can become difficult to sort of keep a vision consistent from when you conceive a story and write it versus when you've broken up your entire narrative over days and nights — and days and weekends. And you’ve taken the puzzle apart and you’ve dumped all the pieces on the ground. And, now, you kind of have to retain what it looks like, because that could become confusing. And holding true to that vision is important.”

As arduous as the journey may have been, Carlucci is proud of what he has accomplished— and he’s ready to go again. “I went to film school 20 years ago with this goal in mind, and I had a long and sort of circuitous path to get here,” he says. “But I never wanted to give up on accomplishing this. And I think a lot of people can lose faith. And I think that’s important too. If it’s really what you want, just stay on the path — because it might take a while.”

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Drunk Bus premieres on Friday, May 21 on digital platforms including Amazon Prime