Bad Trip will undoubtedly draw comparisons with 2006’s Borat, a film that strangely shares the same basic premise and approach: a delusion-inspired road trip to find a girl while unsuspecting bystanders get pranked while drawn into the fictional story. And both are in the hidden-camera genre. But where Borat aims to expose the flaws of America through a more cynical lens with real-life civilians who are typically less-than-happy to encounter its title character, Bad Trip tries to show its victims in a positive light.
Despite the brashness of the two main characters, the people they encounter are almost always accommodating and depicted as kind souls. The result? A much less funny movie.
Bad Trip comedian Eric André as Chris, a schmuck who runs into his high school crush, Maria (Michaela Conlin), in his home state of Florida. She works as an art gallery curator in New York and invites him to come visit her sometime…if he’s ever in town. After some quick deliberating, Chris invites his best friend, Bud (Lil Rel Howery), to join him on an epic road trip to the Big Apple. The only problem? Neither of them owns a car.
That problem is quickly solved when they decide to “borrow” Bud’s sister’s hot pink Cadillac while she’s serving time in prison. Trina (Tiffany Haddish), who ends up escaping, quickly discovers what her brother has done, so she steals a cop car and follows their trail up to New York. There are other characters involved, but they’re all non-actors who don’t realize that they’re being forced to participate in this movie, or any movie.
Somehow more offensive than Borat, Bad Trip seems to take less chances, even with the occasional good ideas that manage to break through. However, there’s too much focus on shock value than unraveling meticulously thought-out situations. Director Kitao Sakurai (making his feature directorial debut) and his stars subject their witnesses to some highly offensive and grotesque material (re: the gorilla rape scene), yet these bystanders mostly just gasp and look nonplussed.
At times we can guffaw as intended, but most times the pranks fall flat. For the latter, the home viewer is grossed out and confused about why these passersby aren’t more insulted by some of these situations.
Cringe humor isn’t necessarily shock humor, and the line isn’t all that blurry, yet Sakurai attempts to capitalize on both here. The film works best when entrapping all of these unsuspecting individuals into a sappy rom-com, highlights which include an early scene with an impromptu musical number than includes hilariously slapdash choreography by André where he theatrically jumps on top of moving vehicles and stumbles around a mall food court.
Or later on, when our protagonist chases down his best friend after a fight, and the two exchange a very cliché moment from a late-’90s teen movie in front of a couple dozen unwitting participants. It’s hysterical.
Unfortunately, the tone never stays there. There’s too many gross-out gags or unbelievable situations that totally don’t mesh with the former, such as an ostensibly candid sex scene during a board meeting, which is so outlandish the bystanders are smiling instead of looking bewildered. We can tell the camera doesn’t even buy into it either, refusing to stay on one subject for too long, presumably due to unsatisfying reactions. At other times the camera cuts away so the home viewer can’t see the film-making tricks used to accomplish these over-the-top situations.
During the infamous gorilla scene, where a man in a gorilla suit forces sexual acts on our protagonist, the camera is careful never to show a close-up of the gorilla’s face, lest we realize the costume is laughably fake. And if we’re able to easily spot a fake, surely so can the people watching all this happen in person?
While Eric André and Lil Rel Howery are physically funny, they can’t seem to improvise well enough to get the most out of a scene. Sacha Baron Cohen, they aren’t. But they don’t really need to be. There’s so much staging involved in their hidden camera pranks the interactions between the actors and bystanders are mostly inconsequential. Their conversations alone never propel events or evolve them further – it all still comes down to what the director had planned in the first place.
Far from great, and with more misses than hits, Bad Trip is still one of the rare movies worth casually watching for an occasional laugh or two, although it’s leagues away from better movies that inspired it. The goal of showing society as fun-loving and helpful in the face of inconvenience is commendable, but for that I’d rather just watch Candid Camera. And please, can we fast-forward through that gorilla scene?