Bad Trip (2020)
Written by Dan Curry, Eric Andre, and Kitao Sakurai
Directed by Kitao Sakurai
When you are watching a film like Bad Trip, a fictional narrative where unaware participants are being pranked and filmed, a certain balance has to be maintained. People have come to see the movie based on the pranks’ outrageousness and in anticipation of seeing how the bystanders react. This means, if you lean too far into the narrative, people are disappointed. But you certainly don’t want to just put a prank compilation in theaters because that doesn’t justify the ticket price. This balance is crucial for a movie like Bad Trip to work, and I am happy to say it’s probably one of the best in this subgenre I’ve ever seen. I had a clear understanding of every character and their motivation, and the pranks were fantastic.
The skeleton of the story that makes up Bad Trip begins with Chris (Eric Andre) working at a car wash and seeing his old high school crush Maria. He misses his chance there, but a year later, at his next job at a smoothie shop, she pops in. Chris asks if she’d like to go out, but she says she’s leaving that day, returning home to New York City, where she runs an art gallery and leaves her business card. Meanwhile, Chris’s best friend Bud (Lil Rey Howrey) works at a computer shop and is relentlessly bullied by his sister Trina (Tiffany Haddish). Trina ends up in prison, which leaves her impounded car ripe for the taking by Chris & Bud for a road trip to NYC. Complicating their plans are Trina’s escape from prison and discovery that her cherished car is gone. She’s out for revenge.
The filmmakers here embrace the absurdity of the situations they are given and give us everything from heartwarming to horrifying. The actors’ improvisational skills are what bring everything to a higher level than your average Jackass prank. Eric Andre is believable as a loveable loser, and Tiffany Haddish is a real threat to anyone crossing her path. The jokes constructed for this film are beautifully made, showcasing that they have a decent budget to pull some spectacular moments. After getting advice from an old man outside a mall, Chris bursts into a musical number, wandering into the shopping center where he dramatically throws food items and drinks off the table of people in the food court. Eventually, a whole cast of dancers emerge from the wings, and he ascends a decorative wedding cake display in the building.
The best thing about this movie is the warmth of the people shown on these pranks’ receiving ends. I think it was especially telling how many Black people wanted to help in situations of peril or when they saw a fellow Black person in need. A man is cleaning up a graffitied wall when Trina emerges from underneath a prison bus parked on the curb. She starts asking him questions, and he very quietly tells her the driver might be back soon and she needs to run. This whole sequence warmed my heart, seeing the man looking out for another Black person who was incarcerated like way too many people in his community.
Another sequence has Chris and Bud coming to their breaking point and getting into an altercation. A young Black man steps in to mediate. He allows them to hash it out but keeps them apart physically, so they don’t harm each other. When Trina finally gets her hands on Chris and is dangling him over a rooftop, people below at a food truck get involved and try to negotiate her into letting him get down safely. Bad Trip definitely had me feeling good about my fellow man, which is not something I expected to get out of this movie. There isn’t the nastiness and nihilism Jackass could sometimes devolve into. That doesn’t mean there aren’t incredibly outrageous and gratuitous scenes. An encounter in a zoo with a gorilla made me think of some of the wildest moments of that popular MTV series.
Bad Trip is one of those movies that would be fun to watch with a large group in a theater setting. It’s complete popcorn fluff but performed well enough that it doesn’t ever feel lazy or going for cheap laughs. The pranks are clever and sometimes perfectly simple. Bad Trip has the sort of comedy that holds up to multiple viewings. It gives us some pretty fascinating insight into how people react to some insane situations.