It’s Oscars season, and with it comes the obligatory binge of Best Six Category nominees that you hope will make up for an entire year of cartoons and sitcoms, but inevitably leave you feeling drained. If you’re looking for a break from the nonstop volley between the perennial extremes of crushingly heavy subject matter and painfully miscalculated pretension, you won’t find a better evening’s distraction than Bad Trip. Netflix’s hidden camera prank movie is a surprise treat that elevates the form above the level of mean spirited shock value – but not too far. Fans of the genre will be treated to some of the most outrageous, over the top, and flat out gross stunts that truly test the limits of human gullibility, while more casual comedy fans will be delighted by the unexpected amount of heart that drives the film from setup to setup.
The premise for the film is fairly simple. Eric Andre and Lil Rel Howery star as Chris and Bud, a pair of long-time friends working dead-end jobs in Florida. When Chris bumps into his high school crush, Maria (Michaela Conlin), he decides to make good on his promise to muster up some courage and ask her out the next time he sees her. Trouble is, she’s on her way to the airport, heading back home to her real life as a gallery manager in New York City. Inspired by absolutely no encouragement or reciprocation whatsoever, Chris and Bud decide to a car from Bud’s sister Trina (Tiffany Haddish), a self-proclaimed “bad bitch” currently serving time in prison, and head north on a Dumb & Dumber-esq fool’s errand of a road trip to win fair lady’s heart. This simple plan becomes increasingly complicated when Trina escapes from prison, and they are forced stop every couple hundred miles to trick some local yokels into giving them some good reaction shots.
While it would be easy to pad out a review by simply listing all the wacky pranks the duo pull on their unsuspecting victims, it’s perhaps more interesting to focus on how shockingly well the film holds up as a narrative. Rather than simply functioning as a series of standalone sketches held together by a loose premise like the low points of the Borat films, the hidden camera scenes almost always work seamlessly in service of the story, which is remarkably emotionally poignant and disarmingly uplifting to boot. Though the love story borders on stalker-level obsession, it almost feels inspirational when Chris busts into song in a shopping mall, only to be joined by a full chorus line of choreographed dancers. The relationship at the heart of the film, though, is the everlasting bromance between Chris and Bud, brought to endearingly natural life by Andrey and Howery. Their disparate personalities and easy rapport make the film an incredible showcase for the pair, particularly Andre who leads the prank team with perfect timing and an affable friendliness that keeps their targets engaged, even in the face of some pretty unbelievable behavior.
And there is plenty of unbelievable behavior to be had. Bodily fluids abound, from urine to vomit to gorilla semen. Bud finds himself stuck in the bottom of a porta-potty, while Chris ends up bare-ass naked in far too many locations to be consistent with etiquette. And though the boys lower the brow as far as it will go when they find themselves trapped together in a Chinese finger trap – but not by the fingers – the level of pervasive raunch will undoubtedly prove to be too much for the faint of heart, even these moments can take unexpected turns into the feel-good thanks to the reactions from the real stars of the films, the hapless suckers who are conned into appearing alongside their tormentors. There’s the army recruitment officer who does his best to talk Chris out of joining the army as a method of suicide, or the man cleaning graffiti who does his best to protect the escape convict who he finds hiding under a bus. Even the golfer who finds Chris and Bud bound together spends an admirable amount of time trying to be helpful and nonjudgmental before he finally snaps. Somehow, a film based on the premise of taking advantage of unwilling participants manages to bring out the best in people just often enough to leave you feeling hopeful for the future of prank comedy, and maybe even humanity.
Verdict: 4 out of 5 Stars
Bad Trip is just about as good as hidden camera comedy gets. Bouyed by a pair of incredible comic leads and a strong supporting cast of enablers, as well as a whole slew of victims who are not afraid to say what they really think of what they are seeing, the film overcomes the limitations of the genre to tell a fun, upbeat, and deeply disgusting story. While it will definitely too gross to win over all audiences, it’ll appeal to a broader range of cinema-goers and couch-streamers than you might expect.