Written by: Joe Lollo; student reporter
I’m not gonna lie – I absolutely love Adult Swim’s cult absurdist comedy series The Eric Andre Show. There’s just something magical about some guy pretending to have a talk show and trolling both celebrities and normal people, and the iconic memes he spawned are even better. When I heard he was producing a film that was one long version of one of his prank segments, I got extremely excited. The film was in development hell for two years, with the initial release date being on my birthday last year, and now in 2021, it’s finally out.
As for whether it’s objectively “good,” that all really comes down to whether you think someone getting chased through the city by a man in a gorilla suit or fake-barfing in a redneck bar is funny or if it’s “too much.” If you’re in the former camp, then Bad Trip, premiering on Netflix, is the comedy for you. In its press notes, Andre stated 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’s Borat, although his pranks are far more sophisticated and satirical. 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 pretend drug trip in a crowded supermarket and, at another point, appear 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, however, 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. 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 all comes down to you as a person – and it’s whether you will be exhausted from laughing hysterically or being bored out of your mind.
On top of all the mayhem, though, Bad Trip also works as the story of a crazy man making genuine human connections. Maybe I’m still reeling from watching a vacuum suck off Andre’s clothing and watching the actor run around naked in front of a guy who thought he was getting a car inspection, but…..there’s somehow some similarities between this and Nomadland. In Chloe Zhao’s current Best Picture frontrunner, Frances McDormand is paired with RV-driving non-actors whose lived experiences and reflective monologues render fictitious scenarios with authenticity, yet Bad Trip‘s “cast” brings the same weight.
While it’s fun to watch Eric Andre shock Atlantans by falling onto a bar table or get stabbed by a barbershop owner, the film finds most of its prank targets stepping up as heroes. One elderly man caught in Andre’s web offers him genuine advice on how to live and love. A man who watches Haddish climb out of the bottom of a prison bus in her convict jumper sweats under the moral pressure of the situation, but makes every right decision in the end. As much as I was laughing throughout Bad Trip, I also saw a small glimmer of hope: There are good people out there, and they will help their fellow man, even if that man is stupidly walking into the freezer section of the grocery store.