Eric Andre, Lil Rel Howery and Tiffany Haddish star in this ribald Netflix comedy in which hidden camera pranks are played on unsuspecting people.
Forget red states vs. blue states, liberals vs. conservatives. The true cultural and social divide can be discerned by the new hidden camera-style comedy featuring Eric Andre, the star of Adult Swim’s cult absurdist comedy series The Eric Andre Show. It all really comes down to whether you think someone pretending to be raped by a man in a gorilla suit or simulating urinating and power barfing in a honky-tonk bar is funny or not. If you’re in the former camp, then Bad Trip, premiering on Netflix, is the comedy for you.
In the press notes, Andre says that he was inspired to make this film after seeing 2013’s Bad Grandpa, the most recent installment in the aptly named Jackass series. Another other obvious antecedent is Sacha Baron Cohen, although his hidden camera pranks are far more sophisticated and satirical. (Ironically, almost no one remembers to credit Allen Funt, who pioneered the concept with Candid Camera more than a half-century ago.)
Bad Trip is actually two films in one, although the whole definitely adds up to less than the sum of the parts. The first is a raucous buddy comedy, involving the efforts of perennial loser Chris (Andre) and his best friend Bud (Lil Rel Howery) to drive cross-country so the former can reunite with his high school crush Maria (Michaela Conlin). The second consists of a series of hidden camera pranks on unsuspecting people, who, as the end credits reveal, mainly react with good humor when the subterfuge is eventually revealed. Of course, they could afford to be generous; they didn’t have to sit through the painfully unfunny film that resulted.
Why Andre and his screenwriting collaborators Dan Curry and Katao Sakurai (who also directed) felt the need to construct a narrative, which also features Tiffany Haddish as Bud’s sociopathic sister newly released from prison, is a mystery. It’s never remotely involving, and you can feel the lead performers straining to handle their acting chores. The exception is Haddish, who is so convincingly scary and menacing here that you wish her character were in a better, dramatic movie.Really, though, it’s all about the gross-out pranks, which begin with Andre being stripped naked after his clothes are sucked away by a car wash vacuum cleaner (don’t you hate it when that happens?). Other elaborately staged gags include his pretending to have his hand shredded by a blender; Haddish hanging him over the side of a building as horrified onlookers beg her to stop; and he and Howery going on a mock drug trip in a crowded supermarket and, at another point, appearing to have their penises stuck together (don’t ask).
The supposed gullibility of the bystanders at times begs belief, although I suppose it’s possible that some people wouldn’t think twice about Andre reentering the gorilla enclosure after being sexually violated, only to have it happen again in even more outrageous and graphic fashion.
At other times, you simply feel sorry for them. When passers-by attempt to provide aid and comfort after Andre seemingly gets seriously injured in a car crash, or a nurse tries to help when he looks like he’s desperately ill in a bar, or a burly military recruiter awkwardly comforts him after he expresses suicidal thoughts, you find yourself simultaneously marveling at people’s capacity for helping others and angry that their concern has been so casually abused. You begin to admire the bar patron who looks like he’s going to clock Andre when he pretends to nearly urinate on him. The only prank that doesn’t feel nastily exploitative involves an impromptu, elaborate song-and-dance number performed in a mall, although it feels a bit ill-timed now after Netflix’s The Prom.
(Speaking of ill-timed, it might have been advisable for the filmmakers to cut out the bit involving Andre making smoothies and touching all the ingredients with his bare hands in front of appalled customers. It somehow doesn’t feel funny in the age of COVID.)
By the time the film ends with an unfortunate homage to the Wayans brothers’ comedy White Chicks, you’ll definitely be exhausted. The only question is whether it’s from laughing hysterically or being bored out of your mind.
Production companies: Orion Pictures, Gorilla Flicks, The District
Cast: Eric Andre, Lil Rel Howery, Tiffany Haddish, Michaela Conlin
Director: Kitao Sakurai
Screenwriters: Dan Curry, Eric Andre, Kitao Sakurai
Producers: Jeff Tremaine, Eric Andre, David Bernad, Ruben Fleischer
Executive producers: Gregory Iguchi, Michael Koman, Shanna Zablow Newton
Director of photography: Andrew Laboy