“Bad Trip” — the feature-length version of Eric André’s weirdly hostile but wonderful Adult Swim show, “The Eric Andre Show,” both of which are directed by Kitao Sakurai — is terrific. It features the kinds of stunts you see in the show but with an almost apologetic edge and less often at the expense of the civilians terrorized by his elaborate traps. The jokes are instead mostly at the expense of the actors; they’re also bigger but still screamingly funny.
The plot of the movie — if you care, which you shouldn’t — goes like this: A couple of dead-enders, Chris (André) and Bud (Lil Rel Howery) decide to steal a beloved pink Crown Victoria from Bud’s incarcerated sister, Trina (Tiffany Haddish), and pursue Chris’ high school crush, Maria (Michaela Conlin), to New York, where she has politely kinda-sorta invited Chris to visit her at her gallery.
It's not much of a plot, but that’s the point: Chris’ predicament is easy to describe to the civilian bystanders and eavesdroppers featured in the movie, who, when they think they know what’s going on, react.
After all, "Bad Trip" isn’t meant to be a movie about two guys finding themselves on a road trip. It’s about what normal people will do when a stranger asks them for dating advice, and then what those same people will do when he’s so inspired by their wisdom that he bursts into song, and then what happens to those people when he dances into the street and gets hit by a car. (No, that isn’t the end of the bit.)
Plenty has been said in opposition to this kind of comedy, including that it punches down. Sometimes it does, but I'm not sure it's doing that here.
Plenty has been said in opposition to this kind of comedy — a first cousin to the shtick popularized by Sacha Baron Cohen in the "Borat" movies — including that it’s misanthropic or that it punches down. Sometimes it does, but I'm not sure it's doing that here.
The unnamed civilians in “Bad Trip” are fascinating, and they're presented in ways you empathize with more than just laugh at; their responses to pressure are unpredictable. Sakurai shows reaction shots of people flinching at André, Howery and Haddish's stunts — obviously — but his camera also bears witness to the complex, lengthy battles fought on their faces over whether or not they have truly had a bad enough day to simply turn around and walk off rather than help somebody caught in an upturned port-a-potty.
They also capture surprising moments from the people they film — and, perhaps a little bit against its inclinations, “Bad Trip” ends up demonstrating how nice most people are. There’s the nurse who doesn’t stop helping Chris after he falls off a bar and projectile-vomits all over her, for instance, or the guy cleaning graffiti off a wall who helps Trina escape from prison but also gives the “cop” pressing him for information a little help, too, before clamming up. (Is it a little mean to force such choices, even pretend ones, on a guy whose sympathy is immediately with the prisoner and not the cop? Yes, definitely.)
“Bad Trip” also, unlike its predecessors, seems committed to showing us how its sausage is made. Some people don’t allow Sakurai to use footage of them; their faces are blurred out in the film. That, then, suggests everyone else gave explicit permission after — and, as the film's credits roll, we see footage of the pranksters telling the prankees that everything’s really OK (and presumably asking them to sign something indemnifying the producers).
Perhaps a little bit against its inclinations, “Bad Trip” ends up demonstrating how nice most people are.
Some unblurred scenes are almost hard to believe. There is one moment of B-roll during that final sequence when André, pretending to be blind drunk, is urinating at a bar and hits the wrong guy. We hear him muttering his safeword into his lapel mic as the guy flings his shot glass to the ground and heads toward André with murder in his eyes. Here’s the thing: The guy’s face isn’t blurred out; he must have signed on the dotted line to let the filmmakers show him preparing to assault the star.
But many moments flow so seamlessly that they leave us standing on the sidelines with the unwitting subjects, wondering where the stunt ended and the real world began. Some are surprisingly sweet: At one point Chris and Bud ask an older waitress for advice about sex. She doesn’t even blink, and the conversation they end up having is remarkable for its frankness and kindness. “I’ve had sex with a lotta different genders and genres,” she says with a laugh as they thank her.
This is the exception, of course. Most of the time, “Bad Trip” delights in capturing the shock people show when they’re faced with something truly surreal, dangerous or gross. It’s all there, in less than 90 minutes, the whole awful human experience. Within the frame of its intentionally boring, by-the-books road-trip comedy, the cast and crew of “Bad Trip” get undiluted insight into the way people respond to the forces of corny high-stakes comedy by convincing them those stakes are real.
I hope someday to grow enough as a person that I no longer find “Bad Trip” funny, but until that day, I will be here, watching it over and over again — especially the musical number.