Sudden Terror: The Hijacking of School Bus #17 (TV Movie 1996) Poster

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A profoundly symbolic film (not)
Welton Barker29 December 1998
Occasionally, one is blessed with the opportunity to witness a legendary event, some freak of circumstance and Providence that will live on in one's memory long after the dross of day to day life has faded into blackness. The October 1996 world premiere of SUDDEN TERROR was just such an event.

This film was finely constructed, with profound philosophical underpinnings. Maria Conchita Alonso plays a bus driver whose charges consist of a handful of "special" children. The film quickly establishes her deep, abiding concern and outright love for these children, through a series of broad strokes in the form of conversational breakfast sallies between her and her character's husband, played with sensitivity and majesty by Dennis Boutsikaris.

Then, without warning, comes the first surprise of the night (but by no means the last). It seems that, despite the fact that Maria obviously loves children and desperately wants one, she is unable to have one!

Without a pause to let the audience recover from this staggering revelation, the film's pace picks up even more. After a brilliant and tantalizingly brief interlude at the bus company (spiced by the salty humor which in other films seemed so cliched, but here radiates energy like fissionable material), we see Maria and her aide going to get her passengers. Her fierce caring is evident in every gesture and word as she straps each child into his/her seat, and then sits beside the newest addition, playfully chatting with both the child and parent. While, of course, in reality such attention to each child would result in a bus trip of several hours duration, we are caught up in the aura of warmth and love so carefully established.

While bathing in the glow thus created, the audience is subjected to yet another shock. A madman (who we saw briefly in a short previous scene, where he is conversing with a priest, thus quickly and efficiently establishing his insanity) gets on the bus, and lets Maria know that his bag is full of explosives, which he will set off with a detonator in his breast pocket, unless she does exactly as he tells her. When we find out that Maria's aide has diabetes, after being cruelly accused of drug abuse by the madman, pathos is thrown into the mix, sparking a conflagration on the screen.

To try to synopsize the film would be pointless, and, besides, would destroy the fun of each breathless chase and climax. However, there are other levels worth looking into here.

The film's symbolism was extremely subtle.

One of the children who is especially important in this regard is Benito. Obviously a reference to Mussolini, this child's preoccupation with progress has led him to playfully refer to the school to which he is being driven as "the moon." The film's clear delineation of the dangers posed to a peaceful fascism (Benito) by a dangerous and unregulated imperialist freedom (Michael Paul Chan's madman, complete with Napoleonic hand over left breast) is brilliant. And it is only through the careful ministrations of the patient Maria that a resolution can be reached and total calamity avoided.

In her noble efforts, Maria is aided by the brilliant maneuverings of the Dade County SWAT team, headed by Marcy Walker. Walker's characterization of the hard-bitten commander powered by a woman's heart was breathtaking in its simplicity and elegance. Using a swish of her long, blonde ponytail to punctuate her commands to her troops was a touch so authentic that one felt as though one had suddenly switched to a documentary. The realism just oozed from such riveting scenes as commander Marcy asking Maria's husband for background on Maria. She was speaking on a cellular phone from the back seat of a car packed with fellow SWATers and her negotiator, while speeding along in hot pursuit of the hijacked school bus. We cut to Maria's husband as his eyes unfocus and he looks nobly into the distance, saying, "Let me tell you a story about her..." The story he tells, heart-rending and tender, was sure to leave a tear in every eye, and even the determined SWAT commander Marcy is visibly moved, listening eagerly to what a less trained mind might regard as a rambling and inappropriate anecdote, given the fact that it is told in the midst of a harrowing chase.

But it is exactly this emphasis on the contradictions inherent in the most stressful situations that rings so true. Bruce Weitz's shattering portrayal of the negotiator shows more of this imbalance come to life, with his slow, patient delivery in crisis situations, and his surprise and dismay (and even bruised emotions) at the repeated abrupt terminations of his phone talks with the madman.

I don't have room here to do justice to the profundity of the film, nor to the philosophical paradoxes which are so adroitly weaved in and out of the story, creating a kaleidoscope of ethical warp and moral woof that, in the end, we recognize as being the reality surrounding us all.

Suffice to say, SUDDEN TERROR is a film which goes far beyond the expectations of any committed television viewer, and is a towering example of just exactly what made-for-TV movies are good for.
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I thought I hated the movie
scook-1311 December 2005
I was sitting there thinking this was a really bad movie. And, then, I see Welton Barker's comments. Out of the blue, it hits me. Well, actually that was the remote being hurled at me by my wife as she yelled for me to change the channel. I would have done just that had I not been mesmerized by Barker's stunningly in-depth critique. With tears in my eyes, I watched the rest of the movie. Every time I thought I was getting bored, I reread Barker's comments. I can tell you that it changed my life in such a profound way, that I am now able to use the word "profundity" with pride. Thank you Welton Barker, and, of course, thank you IMDb for making this whole thing possible.
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A Friday night out of hell
atli_is7 July 2000
Boy, it's Friday. I've been working hard all week an I'm looking forward to a quiet TV night. I look at the TV guide and see that there is an action-filled "based on a true story" film on Iceland's Channel 2 about a man who hijacks a school bus. I thought it might just be interesting to watch it considering I liked movies like Speed and Executive Decision. I sit down and I start watching. The thing that pops into my mind after 5 minutes of watching is that Sudden Terror might just be a strong competitor of being the worst film I've ever seen. (Caligula is on the top of that list by the way). So this Asian-American guy owes the IRS $16.000 and hijacks the CX-17 school bus to pay others attention to the unfairness he has to suffer. In this schoolbus are kid who are "special". Of course they start to panic, but not to worry...The bus driver is a Cuban immigrant who doesn't panic under pressure according to her husband. Well anyway, this has to be one of the worst acted films ever. Marcy Walker who plays the SWAT-leader gives the viewers a stunning performance (I kid you not)and she almost made me cry. No wonder this was her last film according to IMDb. The casting director probably looked for actors on a list containing Razzie-nominees and winners. I feel truly and deeply sorry for the children who play these special children and the day they watch this film when the get older, the average depression rate among american teenagers will definitly rise. WHAT A WASTE OF A FRIDAY NIGHT!!!!!
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Sudden Boredom: The need for a beer
Latte17 September 1999
Oh man. I've seen some half-cocked attempts at a TV movie before, but this really takes the biscuit, and anything else that happens to be around. I don't have the time or the space to list out all the faults with this, so I'll skip to the best/worst parts.

For a start, the title should be had up for flagrant mis-advertising. 'Sudden'- yeah right. This film accelerates to the action at the same speed as the bus. 'Terror'- where exactly? I've been more scared watching an ice cube melt. The terror of not knowing if that ice will drip on your clean jeans. The horror, the horror!

For 99% of the film's running time, nothing happens. Except it gets worse, of course. This film starts badly, and digs itself into a hole from then on. After this, instead of stopping digging, it takes a pneumatic jack-hammer and seems determined to dig itself right to the centre of the earth.

Acting. Acting. Yep, this film had it I'm sure, but not in the bits I saw. You could go see a group of 5 year olds do a play and be blown away by the acting after having watched this. The scripting flowed like set cement.

After having sat through most of the film, I then saw the SRT (Special Rescue Team) kick into action. Now we're getting somewhere I thought. But obviously it was the real SRT's day off, so instead we had the Sort-of Ready Team 'in charge'. You would think that they've never seen a gun before the way they acted. I'm just glad someone told them which end of the gun is the dangerous one, or we would have a very messy situation on our hands. They also seemed to lack any training in explosives. Having found out that there was C4 on board, the SRT thought they had a useful bit of info. But no, no-one around seemed to be trained properly in explosives. At one point, the bus was going down hill fast (much like the film itself) and over bumps. Seeing this, the SRT ran around for cover, thinking the bus would explode. So now I sat there, screaming at the screen, 'Fools! C4 needs an electrical charge to detonate! Going bumpy bump ain't gonna do it! Fools!'

Having lost faith in the SRT now, I wasn't that surprised when the commander didn't give the order to fire to the snipers when they had a clean shot. Typical. So what was her plan exactly? Ask him if he wanted to discuss this over coffee? I don't condone unnecessary killing, but for geezes sake, he had a bomb on a bus full of kids. This bomb was supposedly going to make Oklahoma look like a sneeze. In that case, why did they let the madman drive this bus through the centre of a massive city? Is it cheaper to blow up buildings (with people in) than knock them down? That must be it. The SRT were getting back-handers from a property developer. It all makes sense now.

So the end of the film came. The SRT snipers shot the bad guy. They were pretty lucky actually. You see, the bad guy got shot once, then twice more, but never showed any signs of bullet wounds, or any wounds at all. The shock must have killed him then. Bless.

Conclusion? You already know. I hope that they keep this film in an archive so that directors of the future have a way of making a good film. I can just picture the scene:

FILM ENDS: Media/Film Teacher: 'You see that film we just watched. What I want you to do when you make your film is to do exactly the opposite of everything you just saw. You'll thank me oneday.'
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The Horror.
niibu_yaa24 October 2003
This is one really pathetic movie. Snobby movie dorks across the world, like my self, probably get more entertainment out of it than anyone. If you take this movie as a play on "tv movies" then it makes it's mark. Unfortunately the people who made this were pretty serious. As for those of you wondering why anyone that finds this movie so horrible would finish it? Well it's more or less a sickness I have. Once I start a movie I have to finish it. Admittedly, in this case it was rather hard to do suchly.
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Man, what a bunch of cynics!
janeeyrez5 July 2003
I'm surprised that any of the other reviewers actually watched the whole movie, given their extreme dislike of it. I found it perfectly in keeping with the general style of such movies. Yes, there IS a lot of emphasis on sentimentality in the face of danger, but that's exactly what people look for in a Lifetime movie and, don't forget, this actually happened to real people, so I doubt it was completely unrealistic. What impressed me was the spirit of the bus driver in the face of extreme stress. There is no parent alive who would not wish for someone of her character and strength to be the one to protect their child in such an ordeal, were they not there to do it for themselves.
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Yes! Yes! Yes!
Angeneer27 October 2000
Oh man I love this movie. It could make a better MST3K episode than Manos itself! Rent it ASAP! High point: the last scenes, after the bad guy is dead (another one from the plethora of unexpected twists in this movie). They extended the aftermath to a good 15 minutes, offering a pure cinematic delight! I can hardly imagine anyone will not fall from his couch laughing after THIS.
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navyservant14 July 2013
Don't waste your time on this "school play" level movie.I have seen better acting in extras on TV commercials.Their total lame display of emotions is laughable at best. Based on a true story claims are supposed to help sell this crap? I'm sorry to be so blunt but whatever they paid these people was way too much.The director needs to go apply at McDonald's for his future.Does anyone proofread the scripts for these train wrecks anymore,before slapping them on audiences? One of the actors used to be ANIMAL,on Hill Street Blues but I feel bad for him in this role.The only actress that did a decent job is the bus driver,who was also good in another movie with Arnold the big man.As for the remainder of the cast,it appears as if they had 5 minutes to practice their roles without ever reading the comic,I mean...script.
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Not a bad movie actually.
ninja_butler23 June 2012
There is nothing wrong with the acting in this movie; why do people always blame the actors for poor film making? Watch it for what it is, a low-budget afternoon/midnight movie loosely based on a true story.

People have gotten used to (((ACTION!!!!)) and ((EXPLOSIONS!!)) but this being a sort-of true story, it's lacking in that kind of visual stimulation. What it does have is a paranoid weirdo who may or may not be carrying a real bomb on a schoolbus in a moronic attempt to clear his tax debt. It's not CSI Miami. The only thing really wrong with this movie is that it's too slow-paced, the whole thing could have been fitted into a 45 minute episode on a TV show but it's been dragged out for 2 hours.
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The Best ever
headnmiami1 December 2005
This is one of the best movies that I have ever seen. The ending was not suspected and a surprise. I think that the reality of the movie shows what can happen in life. I cried towards the end, a cry of joy and sorrow of what happened. I really recommend this movie to anyone. For the reason that the movie keeps you on the edge of your seat thru out the whole movie. The facial expressions and acting skills of all the actors and actresses on the set are very professional and skilled. I truly think that this is one of the best movies of all time. This is my opinion, truly you need to watch it and enjoy it for yourself. Pleas believe me when i say this. thanks
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A matter of time and place?
lellison17 October 2004
Not to put down our many knowledgeable and dedicated overseas viewer/members, but I did notice that almost all of the negative opinions were not from the USA, and the few favorable ones were. Also apparent is that all but one previous review were submitted previous to the infamous 9/11 terrorist attack.

We all now live with some concern that such an event could possibly affect us personally. However remote the chance, the fact that it happened once in the 90's suggests an increase in the likelihood of a similar happening today. I would suggest that in this film a message exists that there is hope even in the most extreme circumstances, and that our law enforcement stands ready to help.

Given the above statements, is it possible that this movie would have received more charitable reviews if commented upon today? I found this movie entertaining, inspiring, and thoughtful. I also feel that it was technically better than most of the current "action/suspense" genre. It was totally devoid of numerous exploding vehicles, hundreds of rounds of gunfire, gratuitous sex, and excessive testosterone. The continuing chase sequence, although sometimes quite spectacular, was believable and well filmed. It is not unusual for many true stories that are well presented to seem somewhat bland, or even a bit corny, but the real message often resides in truth and accuracy.

Overall, I thought the movie was well done. Give 'em a break, it was a fine effort.
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A good flim
masonireton1228 August 2002
i watched this movie last night and I love it because it had a good plot,great cast,and great skills.I am a disablitly child and this would be a good flim to teach childern who have specail needs what to do in a dangerous situation like the one in the flim.
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Almost like Speed.
OllieSuave-00723 January 2015
As with most if not all TV movies, their budget is lower than those of mainstream motion pictures and acting a little more sub-par. However, this is a pretty suspenseful little TV movie, based on a true story, where a madman hijacks a school bus boarded by disabled children.

Instead of relying on the usual gunfights and explosions, a good deal of thrills, drama and suspense are put in, making the plot pretty intriguing and making the audience eager to find out how the course of events would play (almost having the exact adrenaline as the movie Speed).

The acting wasn't bad, except, the plot tends to drag a bit and is slow-paced. But, not at all a bad movie to spend with on a Saturday night.

Grade B-
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