Bad Trip (streaming on Netflix) is an oddly difficult movie to critique. On the one hand, it is a not particularly funny comedy about two aimless best friends who go on an eventful road trip, complete with the anticipated vulgar shenanigans. On the other hand, it is a hidden camera prank movie where the antics of the main characters involve unsuspecting bystanders. Similar to Borat but, instead of using the pranks for cultural commentary, Bad Trip uses it to insert random people going about their day into a formulaic buddy comedy. While I didn’t laugh much, the execution of the concept is fairly well done, providing a decent amount of entertainment, even if the movie as a whole isn’t actually good enough to recommend.
Eric André is Chris, an affable slacker stuck in a series of go-nowhere jobs. Lil Rel Howery is his best friend, Bud, who is also stuck in a rut, in part because of his fear of his sister, Trina. Tiffany Haddish is Trina, a lifelong criminal whose only other character trait is that she enjoys abusing her timid brother. Michaela Conlin is Maria, Chris’ high school crush whose brief reappearance in his life motivates Chris to convince Bud to steal his incarcerated sister’s car and drive from Florida to New York City so he can sweep Maria off her feet. As far as I know, those four are the only people who are in on the joke; everyone else’s behavior is natural.
With a comedy like this, there isn’t much to talk about in terms of writing, acting or directing. There is very little in the way of character or story, so it would just be a list of gags and whether or not I liked them. Since I don’t want to bore you (or spoil the jokes), I would rather look at how Eric André and the rest of the cast/crew used their concept.
Even though I certainly wouldn’t say I liked Bad Trip, there are two ways that it uses its central idea really effectively. The first is how it subverts standard buddy/road trip tropes. Unlike many other prank shows/movies, it does not use its stunts to make fun of the victims. It uses them to make fun of Chris. As regular viewers of these types of plots, we are used to the scene where the hero sees the object of his affection and time seems to stop. Or when he thinks he has found his true love and breaks out into spontaneous song. How would those things look in real life?
The answer turns out to be: ludicrous. Chris freezes in mid-conversation with a customer as Maria walks into the smoothie shop he works in and their baffled reaction is genuinely funny. Likewise, people trying to get away from him when he starts a musical number in the middle of a crowded food court is also amusing. Those scenes, where real responses are used to point out the absurdity of Chris’ delusions, are truly inspired. In those moments, where the pranks are essentially commenting on how silly these plots are, it verges on parody and it kind of works. Unfortunately, there is a lot more material featuring Chris, Bud and Trina being gross and that stuff is unoriginal and unfunny.
The other effective aspect is how André, Howery and Haddish are able to move the plot along in their interactions with people who have no idea this is a movie. I am sure it took a lot of conversations, and a ton of editing, but the people they deal with give them precisely what they need to get the story where it must go. Chris requires extra encouragement to follow Maria to New York? He confesses his love to a stranger who tells him to listen to his heart.
I suppose what I am trying to say is this is an impressive production that isn’t a very good comedy. The actors had a tough task (as did editors Sascha Stanton Craven, Matthew Kosinski and Caleb Swyers), yet they made this feel like a real movie, as opposed to a collection of unconnected bits. I didn’t like it, though I definitely didn’t dislike it as much as I expected to.
2 out of 5
Eric André as Chris Carey
Lil Rel Howery as Bud Malone
Tiffany Haddish as Trina Malone
Michaela Conlin as Maria Li
Directed by Kitao Sakurai
Written by Eric André, Kathryn Borel, Dan Curry, Jenna Park and Kitao Sakurai