Bad Trip

4 out of 5

Directed by: Kitao Sakurai

Certainly, Bad Trip is not a great movie. And as a comedy, it uses up its big laughs in its first half. But I would watch it again, and again again, and I would absolutely watch a Bad Trip 2. Granted: I love Eric Andre’s assaultive comedy antics on his Adult Swim show, and so there’s bias going into this as well. But ‘Bad Trip’ helped to better frame something that I realize makes me really enjoy Andre’s work in this vein, and also stands out as a rather unique, despite mining staid things like gross-out humor and, like, shouting something loudly in place of an actual joke.

Bad Trip is being described as a hidden-camera prank comedy, and it is that, but it’s smarter than that: take every dumb buddy road-trip comedy – Chris (Andre) gets his friend Bud (Lil Rel Howery) to accompany him on a drive from Florida to New York, to finally ask out the girl of his dreams – and take all of the usual plot beats that go with that, but then… set it in the real world. That’s the “hidden-camera prank” angle of the show: Andre, Howery, Tiffany Hadish, and Machaela Conlinplay out their by-the-books comedy on the streets, and in restaurants, and in stores, in front of real people, sticking to the script that allows for ridiculousness like a rambunctious and out-of-control night of drunknness or pitting Haddish – playing Bud’s just-out-of-jail sister – in plot-related fisticuffs with Howery and Andre, or some more extreme nonsense when things go awry at a zoo… This same script, by director Kitao Sakurai, Eric, and Dan Curry, definitely uses “dream sequences” and whatnot to segue into some more bizarre stuff lifted from similar gags on The Eric Andre show, but the way it’s all effectively bound to a “traditional” story is brilliant, and it makes what would otherwise be really dumb sequences (i.e. our leads get high and go shopping) hilarious, as they’re over-acted-for-the-camera behaviors are reacted to by the real folk, not aware they’re in a buddy movie.

The editing on this – the way it was stitched together – is quite brilliant, swapping between some scenes that were probably shot without audiences and those that were rather seamlessly (some visual fidelity changes are there, going from smaller hidden cams to better ones, but they jokes do or don’t occur in either format – meaning both formats are used equally for story and humor – so it plays well), and though surely doing the live stuff several times over, they don’t “mix” responses to find the best overall blend, rather going with the take that works best for their story. That’s partially what elevates this over just being a Jackass riff – there’s actual concern for maintaining “immersion” and the movie’s overall structure – but it’s also very much because Andre and Howery and Haddish and Sakurai don’t use the confrontational format to laugh at the unknowing participants. There are some opportunities where Andre may have been trying to bait some choice replies – pointing out when he’s the only black guy at a quite Southern bar, for example – and perhaps if they had gotten those replies they would’ve used them, but Bad Trip never goes out of its way to frame anyone else as necessarily stupid, or foolish. In fact, a lot of people (that we see) respond pretty respectably to the nonsense. And though Andre’s show allowably goes much more “extreme” with its pranks, I realize there’s a similar respect wended into that, which I think is the key to why I enjoy it so much, when I’m normally not big on hidden camera type stuff.

Because Bad Trip does make sure to tell its story, the frequency of its gut-busting laughs start to taper off as it gets closer to needing to tie things up, but I was still glued to my screen throughout this thing, just fascinating with how it was pulled off. And yes, I would watch a Bad Trip 2 of similar quality, but I also think the next round of this would allow the team to figure out how to punch up the humor even more, so it would be something to look forward to.