It might not be entirely accurate to call the new Eric Andre film Bad Trip a prank comedy, since prank comedies often turn on making unsuspecting people look like idiots. Punk’d, for example, was all about putting unaware celebrities into situations where they would (hopefully) act like dolts or hypocrites for all the world to see. Da Ali G Show often did the same with politicians, and the Borat movies, of course, do it with the entire United States of America. Even the uncontrollably nutty prank segments on The Eric Andre Show generally require more activity on the part of the ordinary citizens that have wandered in front of its hidden cameras. They are, for all intents and purposes, still the subjects of the gags in question.
Bad Trip, however, doesn’t really take aim at its unwitting bystanders. More often than not, the movie is a closed circuit of idiocy, whereby the actual actors act like buffoons with each other, leaving everyone else — all the real people, as it were — to just observe and react (or, in some cases, not). And weirdly, it’s refreshingly free of cynicism. Most of the bystanders in the film seem to be helpful, tolerant, sensible — which seems downright shocking at a moment in time when we’ve all been told that we hate each other’s guts. Bad Trip might be a dumb, gross candid-camera comedy, but don’t be surprised if it makes you feel a little better about your world.
It’s also absurdly funny, though it’s not quite absurdist, unlike the genuinely bizarre, did-I-dream-that heights of Andre’s ruthlessly inventive Adult Swim show, with which it shares a creative team, including director Kitao Sakurai. (This film was produced by Jackass’ Jeff Tremaine, who admittedly did something similar with the surprisingly heartwarming Johnny Knoxville stunt-comedy Bad Grandpa eight years ago.) Bad Trip’s brand of comedy accelerates between standard slow-burn humiliation and outright gross-out shock, but the fact that it’s all happening out in public, in front of all to see, lends the proceedings an electric unpredictability.
You can see this very early on, as Chris (Andre), working at a carwash, awkwardly takes a customer into his confidence about how another customer who just arrived, Maria (Michaela Conlin), was the girl he had a crush on in high school. He tells the man he’s still desperately in love with Maria and determined to finally ask her out. Then, suddenly, all of Chris’s clothes are sucked off his body by an overzealous vacuum cleaner, and the poor customer is forced to ask Maria for her phone number, all while an extremely naked Chris hides in one of the cars and eggs him on. The cringe comedy tenderizes us for the bigger, broader gags, and vice versa. It’s not sophisticated stuff (especially compared to the gonzo hidden camera gags on The Eric Andre Show, with its surreal, delirious, complex pranks built within other pranks), but there’s a method to it.
The story, such as it is, is so thin it’s practically translucent. Still dreaming about Maria, who curates a gallery in New York, Chris convinces his best friend Bud (Lil Rel Howery) to go on a road trip from Florida to New York. To do so, they take Bud’s sister Trina’s car, since she’s behind bars. Of course, Trina (Tiffany Haddish) escapes (with the conflicted aid of an unsuspecting mensch, whom she enlists in helping her get out from under the prison bus where she’s been hiding) and goes after our heroes with a vengeance.
Along the way, everyone gets in a variety of scrapes: Chris has an unspeakable encounter with a gorilla at a zoo, while Trina hijacks a cop car by ripping off its door, all while everyone around them looks on in befuddled shock.
Sometimes, they’re more than shocked. At a bar where Chris gets blitzed and falls off a wall, an off-duty nurse in the crowd rushes to his aid. (He promptly projectile vomits all over her — but to her credit, she continues trying to assist him.) After Chris and Bud get in a seemingly horrific car wreck and then bicker with one another, eyewitnesses intervene and try to de-escalate the situation. When a distraught Chris goes to an Army recruiting stand and tells the soldier he wants to enlist because he wants to die, the man actually tries to talk him down. Late in the film, as Trina hangs Chris off the roof of a building and threatens to throw him over, a group of people at street-level try to negotiate with her. In contrast to Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat Sagdiyev, who tends to lead with his contempt (with admittedly often glorious and surprising results), wherever Chris, Bud, and Trina go, they find their fellow Americans not just willing to help them out, but often knowing how to do so. (An unspoken but poignant thread running through the picture is the suggestion that these anonymous bystanders might have found themselves in similarly extreme situations before, for far less entertaining reasons.)
Though Bad Trip is a loose, often shapeless movie, its focus on the common humanity of those caught by its lenses is certainly a choice on the part of the filmmakers. It wouldn’t have been hard to accelerate these situations to the point where everyone began to act like jerks, and one presumes plenty of stuff has been cut out. (We do see some outtakes over the end credits, along with footage of people learning that they’ve been on camera all this time.) I don’t want to oversell Bad Trip — if it doesn’t make you laugh, chances are it will annoy the shit out of you — but its generosity toward our fellow humans can, at times, be genuinely moving.