Film Review – Bad Trip
Bad Trip (2021) falls in the same line of hidden camera/prank movies as the Jackass series, Bad Grandpa (2013), and the work of Sacha Baron Cohen. But where Ali G sought to expose the hypocrisy of the political world and Borat revealed the ugliness of American society as a whole, this film sidesteps the cynical nature of the format to find something shockingly sweeter. Where many candid camera shows aimed to catch unsuspecting victims in mean-spirited situations (see Punk’d), Bad Trip places their participants in the periphery, catching their reactions and allowing them to decide how involved they want to be in the hijinks.
It’s a fine line to walk on, but director Kitao Sakurai and star Eric André find the right balance. This style is not unfamiliar with the two, as both have collaborated before on The Eric Andre Show. It’s there where André took his brand of humor and elevated it to bizarre levels, utilizing his physical comedy as absurdist performance art. Bad Trip doesn’t go as far as his show, but it continues to prove André’s (and his team’s) willingness to garner a laugh. The insight is not just what they do, but in seeing the faces of the people around them. The comedy is in the spectators reacting to their world suddenly being upended.
We see this in the opening scene. We find André pretending to be an employee at a car wash helping a customer. A beautiful woman drives up to the line. André explains to his customer that he has had a crush on the woman since high school. Unexpectedly, a vacuum cleaner rips André’s clothes off. He jumps into the backseat of the customer’s car but pleads with him to not let the woman walk away without getting her phone number. In most cases, a person in that situation would probably try to remove themselves, but surprisingly the customer helps André out.
These tiny little moments work the best. In a time where too much focus is placed on what divides us, here we find decent, hardworking Americans offering a hand when someone is in trouble. In one scene, André ends up drunk in a country bar. When he climbs up a wall and falls through a nearby façade, a group of people rush to his aid. A woman comes up to him, announcing herself as a nurse, and proceeds to make sure he’s ok. When André gets into a verbal altercation with another actor on the street, a man steps in between them and tries to be the peacekeeper. And in another scene, when André walks up to a military recruiter in distress and contemplating suicide, the recruiter does his best to talk André out of it. It’s a “what would you do?” situation over and over again, with everyday citizens showing the best of themselves.
The plot itself is paper thin. André plays Chris, a lonely young man who works menial jobs in Florida. When he runs into his long-lost crush Maria (Michaela Conlin), and is invited to visit her art gallery in New York, Chris convinces his friend Bud (Lil Rel Howery) to go on a road trip up the East Coast in an attempt to win Maria’s affection. Things get complicated when the two steal the car of Bud’s sister, Trina (Tiffany Haddish). They assume things will work out given that Trina is in jail. What they didn’t expect was for her to breakout and go on the hunt for them, murder firmly in her mind. The structure of the narrative has Chris and Bud stopping at various locations along their road trip with Trina asking people if they had seen them or her car.
The actors’ commitment to stay in character and improvise with complete strangers was impressive. This is especially true for Howery and Haddish, who have been in high profile projects since their breakout turns in Get Out (2017) and Girls Trip (2017), respectively. They are just as invested in the chaos as André is, making for some hilariously awkward moments. One of the funniest sequences features the three rotating through a busy restaurant. Trina walks in asking people about them, and then minutes later Chris and Bud will walk in and ask the patrons if they have seen her. The way the crowd flips back and forth between the three, divulging information and switching allegiances made for the biggest laughs.
There are times where the shock value goes a little too far. A sequence involving a gorilla in a zoo not only crossed the line but hurdled over it. And I couldn’t help but cringe during the prank featuring a Chinese finger trap and a Chinese restaurant. When the pranks and jokes run alongside with the simple earnestness of the story is when Bad Trip works the best. A great example is when Chris – encouraged by an elderly gentleman – decides to pursue Maria and breaks out into an actual song and dance number in the middle of a mall. The intricate staging is impressive to begin with, but the fact that the production added moments of spontaneity (such as when Chris almost gets run over by a taxi or gets side-kicked by a passing shopper) makes it all the more memorable.
Bad Trip is not a great film, but it’s a surprisingly good one. It flips the script by making the actors the butt of the joke, allowing us to laugh with those unknowingly caught on camera. It’s grotesque, shocking, and at times pretty dumb, but I laughed the whole way through.