Eric André’s long-delayed, hidden camera comedy is perfect for a late night treat

By: Steve Pulaski

Early on in Kitao Sakurai’s Bad Trip, you can see a Soul Plane poster in the background. That’s fitting, given it’s another movie that leaked on the internet well in advance of its official release date. Bad Trip — a comedy involving hidden-camera pranks on the public — was set to be released last April, but due to the pandemic, was shelved indefinitely before accidentally seeing a release on Amazon Prime Video.

Now streaming on Netflix, the world can legally and rightfully see Eric André’s laudable comic style of incorporating the masses into his routine in entertaining fashion.

André plays Chris, a slacker working at a Florida car wash, with a best friend named Bud (Lil Rel Howery, Get Out), who works at a cellphone repair shop. The two slum it in their dead-end jobs until Chris sees his sign: his high-school crush, Maria (Michaela Conlin, Bones), pulls up to his shop. She is currently a gallery curator in New York City. Deciding he has nothing to lose, Chris ropes in Bud for a trip along the eastern seaboard so he can profess his love to Maria. Their vehicle of choice? Bud’s sister Trina’s (Tiffany Haddish) hot-pink cruiser with “BAD BITCH” inscribed on the back. Trina is currently locked up, so there’s no way she’ll know. Until she breaks out of prison, jacks a cop car in a donut shop parking lot, and floors it in hot pursuit.

Bad Trip exists on the same plain as Johnny Knoxville’s Action Point moreso than the Jackass spinoff Bad Grandpa, although it shares similarities with the latter. It concocts a flimsy yet workable narrative that sets a breeding ground for absurdity in motion, with the assistance of unsuspecting bystanders who react to the ruckus in ways you don’t always expect. What makes Eric André a brilliant comic is his willingness to incorporate the audience into his banter. His cult-favorite Adult Swim program The Eric André Show has elements of this, as well as his standup.

André commits to his character of Chris by making him more sympathetic than pathetic. A surprisingly moving moment comes early on when he plops himself on a park bench and confides in a stranger. Chris tells him about his fledgling desire to travel to New York to court Maria and the stranger agrees he should shoot his shot. Chris then abruptly breaks into song-and-dance, galloping and twirling all the way to a mall where he’s met with awkward looks, even physical violence. Scenes like this are sweet and gift the film more of a purpose than one shock value sequence after another.

Overtime, however, the film does get a little too consumed with shock value. Typical of this subgenre, not all the spaghetti sticks once it’s thrown at the wall. There’s a scene involving Chris being raped by a gorilla at a zoo that’s especially ghastly (that’s where André succumbs to Tim & Eric-level grotesqueness that’s anything but funny). There’s a sequence of Chris and Bud high on hallucinogens, gallivanting around a supermarket that feels straight outta his TV show. You’d also rather not know what Chris and Bud wind up doing with those Chinese finger-cuffs after they trip-out, but make no mistake — they’ll show you, and the public, in great detail.

It shouldn’t be understated how strong Tiffany Haddish is throughout. Haddish has been adrift lately, entertaining subpar material such as Like a Boss after nearly nabbing a (deserved) Oscar nomination for Girls Trip in 2017. Haddish gets a chance to be the villain here, and her targets are more than Chris and Bud. Her golden moment comes when Trina storms into a New Jersey diner, angrily stapling “Wanted” posters of Chris and Bud around the establishment, telling everyone within earshot she’ll kill them when she finds them. She leaves. Chris and Bud enter several minutes later. The patrons are aghast. The two take off. Trina storms back in. One customer, who claims to have worked with police officers, helps steal the show for the ensuing audience participation in the bit. But it’s Haddish who takes charge in her scenes and makes them click.

I fretted over my rating of Bad Trip more than I should’ve — as if it ultimately matters. I thought “C+” upon finishing it. The gorilla scene and Chinese finger-cuffs bit didn’t sit right with me. Then I thought about the aforementioned elements that did. That’s worth a “B,” right? I also remembered I gave the universally panned Action Point a positive review. I’ve since revisited it twice and still stand by my original review. There are principles on which critics live. If Action Point is something I’d recommend to you, I’d have to recommend Bad Trip by similar logic. Especially since I consider it a more structurally effective film. In many ways, it’s a superior movie. In many ways, I can make mountains out of molehills.

NOTE: Bad Trip is now available to watch on Netflix.

Grade: B