Not Such a ‘Bad Trip’

Netflix’s Eric André prank movie gets the set pieces right

You don’t even need to watch the first five minutes of the Netflix movie Bad Trip to know if it’s for you. Just do the Jackass test: if you liked the Jackass movies, which took bodily harm and hidden cameras to heretofore undiscovered peaks, or the offshoot pranks-with-a-script-and-characters Bad Grandpa, this movie is for you.


BAD TRIP
★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Kitao Sakurai
Written by: Dan Curry, Eric André, Kitao Sakurai, Andrew Barchilon
Starring:  Eric André, Lil Rel Howard, Tiffany Haddish
Running time: 86 min


If on the other hand, pranks make you anxious, deeply uncomfortable, and you feel sorry for the passersby that these absurd situations are duping, you won’t much like Bad Trip. It mixes the Bad Grandpa formula with the wild, frequently naked and aggressive alt comedy of the Adult Swim talk show, The Eric André Show.

In the movie, released on Netflix after being delayed for a few years from theatrical release, Andre plays a lovelorn carwash attendant named Chris who wants to travel across the country to woo a former classmate, Maria (Michaela Conlin). He enlists his best friend Bud Malone (Lil Rel Howery, toned down but still very funny) on an east-coast road trip in a pink ‘Bad Bitch” car stolen from Bud’s sister, Trina (Tiffany Haddish).

The threadbare script is an excuse to string together pranks, some filmed with multiple hidden cameras, others apparently shot in plain sight of onlookers in spaces such as smoothie shops, a roadside zoo, Times Square, and a diner that becomes the site of multiple fake altercations in front of bewildered customers.

The problem with a movie prank movie with no real characters–Chris and Bud are friends with terrible jobs, Maria is a pretty face who owns an art gallery–is that the whole thing rests on whether the pranks are hysterically funny enough to sustain about 90 minutes worth of watching.

Luckily there are at least three standout set pieces, including an animal-to-human assault at the zoo, destruction at a posh New York art show, and an incredibly dirty prank involving a Chinese finger trap toy, that are uproariously shocking and funny, laugh-out-loud moments that make the whole endeavor worth a watch.

At times, the movie, which starts sluggishly, seems to be striving for the kind of cultural commentary that made the Borat films feel more weighty, but the pranks that try to get at the differences between white and Black America don’t provide any real insight. At a country bar where Bud and Chris are the only Black patrons, their disruptive, drunken chaos doesn’t provoke racist remarks or aggression, just concern from a white nurse who wants to help.

When Trina yells at a White cop on the street about her stolen car, he doesn’t take it to a racial place, and in fact they exchange a big hug when a post-movie snippet reveals the joke. A closing scene in a country club setting shows only that rich white people are uptight in weird, sexually charged situations involving DMX songs, a revelation hardly worth documenting. This capper involving the movie White Chicks will only tickle you if you loved the movie White Chicks.

Apart from its best set pieces, Bad Trip’s best reason for existence is Tiffany Haddish as its villain. Haddish throws herself into the role of a murderous escapee from jail in a way that makes up for all the recent movie roles that have boxed her into softer, lesser versions that tamp down her prodigious comedic talents. In Bad Trip, Haddish is sharp as a Game of Thrones sword, and convincingly terrifying. She stays in character and ad libs with such precision in a chunk of solo scenes that she regularly outshines the movie’s two main characters. In a great credits behind-the-scenes reel, Haddish is just as funny when she drops the tough persona and teases those duped by the pranks. She gets the last laugh of the movie, apt since she stole the whole film right out from under its main stars. 

 

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Omar Gallaga

Omar L. Gallaga is a technology culture writer, formerly of the Austin American-Statesman, but he's not interested in fixing your printer. He's written for Rolling Stone, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, Television Without Pity, Previously.tv and NPR, where he was a blogger and on-air tech correspondent for "All Things Considered." He's a founding member of Austin's Latino Comedy Project, which recently concluded a two-year run of its original sketch-comedy show, "Gentrifucked."

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